The Flight Before Christmas, review – Aardman delivers a fun, cuddly family watch

In the age of streaming everything on all your devices whenever you feel like it, family viewing – something you can watch together round the flat-screen hearth “that doesn’t totally suck”, as my eldest puts it – has become TV’s Holy Grail. Doctor Who at its best can do it, and machine-tooled US sitcoms such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Friends get close, but for toddler-to-codger full spectrum viewing at Christmas it’s hard to beat an Aardman. When has Wallace & Gromit ever let you down?

Shaun the Sheep is a children’s series spun-off from the classic Aardman W&G short A Close Shave. It sets further strictures on those brilliant Aardmaniacs by removing dialogue altogether: there’s as much Buster Keaton as Sesame Street in every episode and at its best it can reach a pitch of visual comedy that’s wondrous to behold. When the two feature-length films (Shaun the Sheep: The Movie and Farmageddon) came out in 2015 and 2019 it moved Shaun close to usurping Wallace’s (or more realistically Gromit’s) plasticine throne.

But it also raised the bar for dialogue-free, plasticine-sheep-related humour, and set against those two triumphs this Christmas half-hour, as frenzied and free-wheeling as it was, felt second-rate. Timmy, the wee bairn of the flock, was the McGuffin as usual, when a farmhouse raid to get the sheep bigger stockings went wrong and Timmy got carted off to the local Christmas market. 

The rest of the bunch spent the rest of the film trying to get him back, including piling themselves up as a multi-sheep snowman and engaging in a brilliant, Home Alone-style battle with a young girl who thought Timmy was her Christmas present.

The plot was all over the shop but then the plot was only there to serve the set pieces and the jokes, and they all passed muster. Let it be said here and now that there will never be a time when a flock of sheep engaged in a chase scene is not funny.

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