UK TV review: Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas
Ivan Radford | On 28, Dec 2021
“Stars are twinkling, bells are jingling…” That’s the sound of Shaun the Sheep returning to our screens for a Christmas-themed outing – and, like its titular song, it’s full of likeable enthusiasm and festive warmth.
The 30-minute film begins with Shaun (Justin Fletcher) hunting for a bigger stocking for Christmas, but problems arise when tiny Timmy (also Fletcher) ends up being whisked off to the Christmas market in the back of the Farmer’s truck – which leaves Timmy on someone else’s Christmas wishlist and Shaun and the family mounting a rescue mission.
The latter has everything you could want from an Aardman animation. The studio has a remarkable knack for engineering pure energetic chaos out of such slow, precise machinations. Their latest romp round Mossy Bottom Farm includes robot vacuum cleaners, snowmen made out of sheep and some particularly explosive bottles of orange soda – all with the Farmer (John Sparkes) unaware of what the sheep are up to, and with his sheepdog Bitzer (also Sparkes) proving a mostly useful ally.
It’s always been testament to Shaun the Sheep’s careful attention to detail that the man and his dog don’t feel like clones of Wallace and Gromit, and their dynamic – one clueless, one smart, but both clumsy – is nicely contrasted with another farming family: Ben (Marcus Brigstocke), an influencer who records cooking tutorials on YouTube (or the Aardman equivalent), his appearance-aware wife, Jin (Anna Leong-Brophy), and their wild-haired daughter, Ella (Laura Aikman).
It’s this second home that really gives The Flight Before Christmas its heart, as we see Ella lacking some of the intimacy she might have with her parents, something that’s reinforced by the constant appearance of cut-outs, videos and more of Ben all over the place. So when Timmy lands in Ella’s lap, she can’t help but want to keep him as her adorable new gift – a poignant set-up that sparks an inspired reverse-Home Alone sequence as the sheep attempt to escape their house.
But, crucially, there are no villains here, just people with understandable, well-meaning motivations. That Aardman’s team is able to capture that nuance with barely a word of dialogue is as mind-boggling as ever. The result is a cute and often laugh-out-loud slice of slapstick silliness that makes its familiar story of seasonal sentiment feel fresh all over again. By the time Tom Howe’s wonderfully catchy song plays out in full over the end credits, kids of all ages will be dancing round the Christmas tree – this short but sweet outing fizzes and pops with heart.
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is available on BBC iPlayer until December 2022