Debuted in 2013
Plot in 3 Sentences: Sarah and Duck go shopping for Christmas lights, but can’t find anything that they like. When they get back home, they follow a glowing ladybug through a hole in the hedge, where they discover flowers with colorful shining petals and ornaments growing from the ground. They take some of them home and decorate their tree.
Fun Fact: This was the final episode of the show’s first season.
My thoughts: I was not surprised to learn that this show, which is geared toward preschoolers, has a following among adults. There’s something really warm and cozy about it. The show ran for three seasons between 2013 and 2017 on CBeebies, which is the BBC’s children’s programming network and won a BAFTA for preschool program in its second season. Each show episode consists of three animated shorts, during which 7 year old Sarah and her best friend, Duck, have an adventure or solve a problem. The show is narrated by Roger Allam (who originated the role of Inspector Javert in the London version of Les Miserables) and in addition to narrating the episode, he occasionally speaks to the characters and offers them helpful advice. There are a number of recurring characters with names like Umbrella (he’s afraid of rain), Scarf Lady and Bag (who is a talking knitting bag belonging to Scarf Lady). What I love about this short is how magical it feels, with the secret glade and its otherworldly glowing flowers. It’s all very colorful, beautiful and sweet, with a perfect ending, in which Sarah gazes at the decorated tree and just says the word, ‘Christmas’ with the most satisfied joy. Especially recommended for those who love kids with British accents.
I feel your pain, Sarah. I’ve seen cringe-worthy trees, too.
It’s a good harvest of tree lights this year.
Duck is useful for plucking baubles out of the river.
Well worth all the trouble. Their decorations are lovely.
Individual Superlative: Most Quackable Theme Song – Go ahead and try not to quack along with Duck during the short (but really contagious) theme song. I dare you not to quack.
Want to Watch it? Sarah & Duck: Petal Light Picking is available on DVD and typically turns up during holiday programming.
Debuted in 1999
Plot in 3 Sentences: Robbie shows up to train for Santa’s sleigh team as a navigator, but Blitzen tries to prevent his success because he hated Robbie’s father. Blitzen convinces Robbie that he’s unfit so he leaves and tries his hand at toy making with the elves, who suggest he hire a trainer. He just barely loses the Steeplechase at the Reindeer Games, but then it’s discovered that Blitzen was using performance enhancing drugs, so Santa chooses Robbie.
Fun Fact: It’s played for comedy that Blitzen never lets anyone say the name of Robbie’s famous red-nosed father, but it’s actually because of copyright law.
My thoughts: There have been three Robbie the Reindeer specials, all produced for Comic Relief and originally aired on BBC One. Although not an official Aardman Animations production, it did share some of the animators and has the same style and look of the other Aardman films. The version I watched was the original BBC version, with the original voices, but there is an American-ized version out there as well, with American actors in the cast. As a big fan of Ardal O’Hanlon, who voices Robbie, I recommend this version. There are lots of funny moments and a couple of cute subplots, including Robbie’s budding romance with Donner and his friendship with Old Jingle, who comes out of retirement to train him. I thought this one was a lot of fun and now I’m looking forward to watching the story continue in the other two films.
Even reindeer have to stay fit.
Donner has heard all she cares to hear about how gorgeous Vixen is.
Not exactly the way I always pictured Santa’s elves.
Robbie’s first attempt at toy making. I always thought whales could use an arm or two. Or three.
Individual Superlative: Beards Aplenty – Santa is not the only one in his family to have a full beard. So does Mrs. Santa and their infant child. Honestly, it made me laugh every time they showed it.
Want to Watch it? Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is available on DVD and YouTube.
Debuted in 1975
Plot in 3 Sentences: The staff of Grace Brothers arrives at the store early to discuss ideas for boosting sales but Mr. Rumbold shows up with the news that Mr. Grace has rented fun costumes for all of them to wear. Their Christmas lunch is disappointing, with a tiny turkey, combustible Christmas pudding and not much else. But the decorations are lovely and everyone gets into the holiday spirit to close with a festive song.
Fun Fact: This episode marked the first appearance of Doremy Vernon as the Canteen Manager (who stayed for most of the series) and the last appearance of Mr. Mash.
My thoughts: Like many comedies of this era, Are You Being Served? is silly, formulaic and predictable. Mr. Lucas is going to insult Mrs. Slocombe, there’s going to be a point-of-display model that goes wrong and Mrs. Slocombe will make a double entendre statement about her cat. But it still manages to be good fun most of the time, with a few genuine laughs along the way. This is not my favorite of their Christmas episodes, but it still has its high points, including the bit at the end when they tell Young Mr. Grace that he’s done very well (which is something he usually says to them). You’re expecting the worst when the department decorations are revealed, so it’s a surprise when they turn out to be lovely and it makes for an unexpectedly sweet and cheerful ending.
Mr. Grainger displays the warm and friendly smile he will give to children.
Mrs. Slocombe is not amused by the point-of-display model…and she is unanimous in this!
Captain Peacock’s googly eyes are awesome.
Of course, Mr. Humphries has the most outrageous costume.
Individual Superlative: Christmas Envy – From the ‘Christmas pud’ to pulling the giant crackers, this special makes you want to spend at least one Christmas in the U.K.
Want to Watch it? Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers is available on DVD and you can watch it on YouTube.