Who’s going to save Christmas?
It’s a pretty big question at the moment with COVID once again laying waste to the best laid festive plans of elves and men, and one that can be answered quite simply, and for some, unexpectedly – Shaun the Sheep (Justin Fletcher).
Yes, that Shaun the Sheep, who first made an appearance in the 1995 Wallace and Gromit film, A Close Shave, who has proven himself cheekily able to outwit farmers, dogs and assorted clueless townspeople.
Or in the case of Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas, an influencer couple who have unwittingly brought Timmy, Shaun’s cousin, into their Insta perfect home courtesy of a present won by their son at the nearby Christmas market.
Quite why Timmy is in that Christmas gift box in the first place has a lot to do with Santa Claus – Mossy Bottom’s Farmer (John Sparkes) decides to rapid brew some drinks to sell at the market and decides dressing the part will help him sell more; it doesn’t but Timmy thinks he’s the real deal – and a lamb’s wondrous belief in the magic of the people and images of the season.
That’s something that Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is full to the giddily festive brim with – the Farmer’s tree is awash in gaily-coloured ornaments and streamers, surrounded by a mass of presents, and even the sheep have decorated their barn with all kinds of lovingly recycled ornaments, pizza slices and a cardboard tree.
If nothing else, the special looks quite Christmas sprung vividly to life, with even Bitzer the dog’s kennel, which is pressed into service at the market in ways that will make you feel sadly for the farm’s most beleaguered resident, decked out with a tree that twinkles and shines.
There’s no mistaking it’s Christmas and no missing the fact that when Timmy is in trouble, and his mum and Shaun’s aunt, is distraught that they can’t rescue him, either at the markets or the influencer’s house where the young son who’s neglected in favour of his parents’ social media presence, makes things playfully difficult for them in a very Home Alone fashion, it’s Shaun that must, and does, come to the rescue.
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is every bit as delightful as you’d expect it to be.
The visual hijinks are as goofy and richly funny as we have come to expect from Aardman Productions, which has never met an expertly rendered sight gag it didn’t love, with flying sleighs (the means of propulsion is a fizzy joy of epic proportions), Die Hard gags and even fleece-ripping hilarity coming into play.
Shaun the Sheep is, of course, known for its impish sense of humour which is given room to stretch its rubbery, wool-covered legs time and again, culminating in the smart phone-controlled home of the influencers, Rumba included, descending its manic chaos as the sheep try to rescue Timmy in time to make Christmas happy for everyone.
Watching Shaun figure out that Christmas light ropes will get them to safety at the little boy’s cubby house is so much fun that you might be tempted to try it yourself – likely not well advised unless you’re made of bouncy claymation materials – and seeing how much trouble one exploding fizzy soda cork at a crowded Christmas market will cause will have you rolling on your sides laughing.
This is one very, very funny special but it is also heartwarmingly meaningful too, even coming complete with some pithy social commentary, the kind that requires a epiphany to make right, which is delivered in an ending that manages to be both daffily silly and profoundly moving and awww-inducing too.
How does anyone combine two such disparate things and get away with it? Well, when you’re Shaun the Sheep anything is possible, even sightings of Santa which gives Timmy the ultimate festive thrill.
The sheer funniness and joy of Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is just what we all need after years of pandemic.
Not only is it a slapstick piece of magically funny wonder – can wooden decorative sleighs fly? They can when Shaun the Sheep is on the rescuing job! – but it reminds you how much we all need each other, especially at Christmas when not everything goes to plan and having your family around you, yes, even a sometimes overly-officious dog, is a necessity.
Why Timmy might still be trapped in the kid’s playroom, Toy Story style, and the parents might still not know that flesh and blood loveliness beats the virtual online version hands down, and Bitzer may not have a brightly-coloured, Christmassy new doghouse is Shaun hadn’t saved the day once again.
Of course, Christmas specials are usually about something important being saved, but Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas really goes to town on that trope, rescuing Timmy sure, but also helping everyone from the Farmer to Bitzer to the Insta parents to realise that Christmas happy-ever-afters are possible for everyone.
In true Aardman style, that happy ending is not the least bit over-sentimental or treacly, and warms the heart while bringing a heart does of laughing to the soul and making the world feel like a funny, crazy, over the top but warm and huggy place again.
Everything might feel dour and lost this Christmas, with families separated and Omicron running rampant and all the usual traditions suspended, tinsels hanging mournfully from a fallen tree, but Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is all about love, inclusion, sacrifice and the sort of happiness that can only come when you put others before yourself and use fizzy soda in ways that no man, elf or red man in a suit has every thought of before.