If you’re looking for a lovely Christmas treat to watch as a family, you can’t go far wrong with The Snail and the Whale.
Faithfully adapted from the award-winning children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, it takes us on a journey across the oceans blue with 30 minutes of gorgeous animation – and charming narration from Diana Rigg. As for who our two main characters are, the clue is in the title: a young sea snail (Sally Hawkins) with a yearning for travel, and a humpback whale (Rob Brydon) who gives her a lift on his tail.
Julia Donaldson adaptations have quickly become a staple of the festive TV schedules. So far, we’ve had Zog, Room on the Broom, Gruffalo, Stick Man, The Highway Rat… and now BBC One and Magic Light Pictures have teamed up yet again to bring us The Snail and the Whale.
Although it was first published in 2003, this story now seems more relevant than ever. There’s an environmental message which kids will surely take to heart; the poor whale is befuddled by all the jet-skis near the coast and ends up beached on the sands thanks to human thoughtlessness – but then the community comes together to save him, thanks to the tiny snail (who worries she’s too small to make a difference) who summons the kind-hearted children from the local school.
The story also features a lovely friendship between two wildly different creatures. The whale helps the snail; the snail helps the whale. And on their journey they pass through waters stormy and still, showing us all different corners of the world. It’s visually spectacular. You can sit back and just enjoy.
Except for one moment which I must warn you about, in the interest of a nightmare-free Christmas. Now, maybe I’m just a wussy adult, but I was also a wuss as a child, and if your child is also a wuss you might want a heads-up about a pretty scary moment nine minutes in. This is, of course, when the snail and the whale dive down to the caves beneath the waves where they find “stripy fish with feathery fins” and “sharks with hideous toothy grins.”
Axel Scheffler’s original illustration in the picture book is cartoonishly cute (hardly hideous!), and the Snail and the Whale’s encounter with them is pretty minimal; the snarks simply “swam round the whale” before the story moved on.
On TV, however, these goofy snarks become a bit more frightening – chasing and snapping at the whale’s tail with big intimidating teeth. Be warned! And provide cushions for timid children to hide behind! (Spoiler: the whale gets away just fine after a minute or so. The jeopardy doesn’t last too long. Your kids are probably braver than me.)
The Snail and The Whale will air at 2:30pm on Wednesday 25th December (Christmas Day) on BBC One