Review by C.J. Bunce
Four-time Oscar winner Nick Park and his Aardman Productions have netted stop-motion animation’s finest, most clever, laugh-out-loud creations. His third Oscar-winning animated short film starring Wallace & Gromit, A Close Shave, introduced the Aardman’s international audience to Shaun, a “teenage” sheep whose adventuresome spirit gets him into trouble and who went on to star in several series and films of his own. The latest comes directly to Netflix in time for Christmas, Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas, a story that mixes the best aspects of the finest holiday classics with a reflection of the trappings of our modern world.
Two feature films this year best reflected the reality of life in 2021, at least with respect to our reliance on technology. The first was Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines, and the next is this Aardman holiday story. On the one hand this is another sweet Shaun the Sheep story of life on the farm from the vantage of the sheep and a very proud and determined sheep dog named Bitzer. Shaun decides he may get more Christmas presents if he hangs a bigger stocking on the hearth. So he and the much younger, easily influenced lamb named Timmy embark on a plan, which quickly fails and results in Timmy inside the farmer’s truck chasing Santa–actually the farmer in Santa garb–as he and the dog go off to a holiday event in town. This leaves Shaun, Timmy’s mom, and the rest of the flock to find their way to town to rescue the youngling.
In the twisty voyage you could only experience in an Aardman show, Timmy ends up as a present in a box for a little kid, who happens to have parents who are famous social media influencers of some sort. The kid plays second fiddle to their technology-filled life, with a dad who instead of reading the kid to sleep hands over an audiobook storybook (a video of the dad reading the story on YouTube). There are lessons here for anyone paying attention. How many homes look just like the one depicted in the show? But it’s really about the charm and the hilarity in the antics as everything that falls apart comes together again.
The brilliance of these Aardman creations are how the animals don’t speak–in fact there is not much dialogue throughout a Shaun the Sheep show, which makes these films perfectly accessible for the very youngest audience members. The precision of the stop-motion animation keeps Aardman at the top of this classic film medium. Genre fans take note of Doctor Who and Raiders of the Lost Ark references, among others.
It’s only 30 minutes, but it’s just the right length, and similar in content, theme, and quality to shorts like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In case you missed them, take note of our review here of Shaun in the sci-fi movie Farmageddon, the historical comedy Early Man, and our discussion of Aardman’s Pirates! Before that, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit won an Academy Award for best animated feature. The studio also produced the popular Chicken Run. The studio’s first computer animated film, Arthur Christmas, is another great holiday film. Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli animator Hayao Miyazaki, widely considered one of the best animators of all time, counts himself as a fan of the Aardman movies. For more background on Aardman Animations, check out our review last year of the book A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time, found here.
It’s a perfect movie to watch with your family this week. Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is streaming now only on Netflix.