The Flight Before Christmas is another inventive, droll effort from the Aardman team, imbuing their familiar stylings with a little misty-eyed holiday cheer.
One might be forgiven for assuming that Netflix’s Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas is a feature-length continuation of Aardman Animation’s Shaun the Sheep saga, but instead it’s a short film that somewhat returns the studio to its roots. Having risen to prominence with the Wallace & Gromit shorts (including the Oscar-winning The Wrong Trousers), Aardman has since evolved into delivering features like Chicken Run, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Flushed Away, The Pirates, and Shaun the Sheep. And while the studio has certainly continued cranking out short form animation, the features have garnered them much greater visibility and critical acclaim (along with a raft of awards nominations).
Given Aardman’s glow-up, The Flight Before Christmas might seem somewhat inconsequential on paper, but it’s as visually inventive as anything else in their filmography — sending the titular sheep on an errand to retrieve young Timmy, who mistook the farmer for Santa Claus and has set off to get a bigger Christmas stocking for Shaun. At only 30 minutes, it’s a breeze, and sticks to the central stylistic conceit that none of the characters ever speak a line of dialogue, communicating only in grunts, gasps, and various other non-verbal exclamations. Aardman has always been adept at creating physical comedy through Claymation, and this marriage of form and fancy allows Shaun the Sheep to evoke the work of the great silent comedians with aplomb. The Flight Before Christmas isn’t breaking any new ground here, but the level of sophistication of its humor can be disarming, deftly balancing slapstick and sight gags with clever deep cuts like a well-placed reference to Jimmy T. Murakami and Dianne Jackson’s classic animated short, The Snowman, a joke likely to fly over the heads of much of its young audience but which will provide a wink and giggle for those in the know. It’s a release destined to get lost in Netflix’s onslaught of holiday content, and that’s a shame, as the film is a festive charmer that provides a warmhearted mixture of Aardman’s signature droll humor and some misty-eyed holiday cheer.
You can currently stream Steve Cox’s Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas on Netflix.