Film Review – Arthur Christmas
Aardman Animation proves themselves once again in the delightful new holiday animated movie Arthur Christmas. Aardman is the production company behind both Chicken Run and the delightful Wallace and Gromit series of shorts. While there was some trepidation that their expertise in stop motion animation might not carry over into the medium of high budget computer animation, those fears are long left behind now. Arthur Christmas is a delight.
The film starts with a little girl writing her letter to the North Pole, asking Santa how he can deliver all of the presents in the world in just one night. We quickly get that answer as we follow the letter to the North Pole, where it is processed by Arthur, voiced by James McAvoy. He works in the letter answering department, where he assures the little girl that Santa will be told what she wants for Christmas. This is followed by a high energy montage of how Santa’s operation works. Flying his S-1 spacecraft over a given city, Santa and the elves rappel down to people’s houses delivering their expertly wrapped gifts. While Santa, voiced by the always enjoyable Jim Broadbent, seems to be losing his edge and nearing retirement, propped up by his immensely competent wife Mrs. Claus (Imelda Staunton), his oldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie) runs the whole operation as a well-oiled machine. Steve oversees things from command central and orders an army of elves to deliver all of the goodies by morning. Arthur is the younger of Santa’s sons, and a bit of a bumbler. But while Steve is proficient and anxiously awaiting his turn to become Santa, Arthur simply loves Christmas. He only wants to help in any way he can.
In a hilarious accident, Santa almost wakes a child by nearly setting off a noisy talking toy in a child’s bedroom. While one of the elves diffuses the toy like a bomb, an unnoticed bicycle doesn’t get delivered to the girl who wrote the letter at the beginning of the film. Arthur discovers the mistake and spends the rest of the film trying to deliver it before morning. This is when the film really takes off.
You see, according to this film’s legend, Santa retires every 70 years. So, while Santa has been around for hundreds of years, it hasn’t been the same guy. But instead of a spell being bestowed on someone a la The Santa Clause, it is handed down to the current Santa’s child. So when Arthur needs help delivering this gift, he turns to one of my new favorite characters in animated movies: Grandsanta. Bill Nighy is the voice of this cantankerous 137-year-old coot. He’s cranky, his teeth fall out half the time, and he holds no love for all of his son’s modern conveniences for delivering gifts. So, seeing a chance at regaining former glory, he dusts off his old wooden sled, leashes up the reindeer (“On Dasher, Dancer, Prancer…what are the other ones? Bambi?”), and sets out to make it halfway around the world. They get lost several times along the way. Both the look of Grandsanta, with his spindly unkempt eyebrows, and the opinions he spouts throughout the movie (when Arthur states that flying to the little girl in time is impossible, he replies “That’s what they used to say about teaching women to read”), he is truly a gem of an animated character.
The animation and use of 3D in this film is outstanding. The characters are bright, with soulful eyes. Jokes are told very visually. For instance, when one of the elves is delivering presents in a hospital, he quickly uses ninja stealth through a maternity ward to throw brightly lit pacifiers into each of the fussy babies’ mouths. And the 3D is really used to full effect. The many flying scenes looks spectacular. A mishap in Africa regarding magic dust and flying animals on the savannah is both funny and stunning.
Also, there is some genuine emotion to be found in the family dynamic. The themes of fathers and sons relating to each other is surprisingly touching. But the whole affair doesn’t become maudlin or sappy.
The British sensibility of articulate jokes with great timing is really evident as well. Thankfully, the movie’s sense of humor avoids the Shrek-like trend of dropping stale pop culture references to get a cheap laugh. No “Say hello to my little friend” here. You know, the kind of gags that age badly and will fall flat when you rewatch it in a couple of years. These jokes come from well-written characters and situations.
At this time of year, with both Oscar contenders and larger hyped movies like The Muppets coming out, hopefully Arthur Christmas doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. I don’t think the previews for it have done it justice. And everyone will probably feel they’ve seen this story before in films like Fred Claus or The Tooth Fairy or The Santa Clause series. But this outing is really worth your time. It makes for a fun movie experience, and I will firmly say I enjoyed it much more than Cars 2 this year. It’s rare for a computer animated movie to rival a Pixar production. But you should really get out and watch this very fun film.
Final Grade: A-