Director Sarah Smith fills every scene with subtle and hilarious visual jokes; too many, in fact, to catch on first viewing.
Every year around the holidays Hollywood inevitably releases a family-friendly Christmas movie of some sort. Sometimes it’s a quality film like The Santa Clause or Elf; sometimes it’s Fred Claus. This year, audiences will be treated to Arthur Christmas, a wonderful animated 3-D film that is terrifically clever and quite entertaining.
The movie addresses the age-old question of how Santa Claus is able to deliver toys to children all over the world in just one night. The answer: a high-tech, super-secure, state-of-the-art system of manufacturing, delivery, and stealth operations that would make the CIA and FBI cry. This military base on steroids is run by Santa’s son and second in command, Steve (Hugh Laurie), who has streamlined Christmas to maintain maximum efficiency. Santa (Jim Broadbent) himself is more of a figurehead than an actual cog in the system, and Steve is just biding his time until his father steps down and he can become the new Santa.
Complicating matters is Santa’s other son, Arthur (James McAvoy), who is, well, special. He’s clumsy, goofy and a bit of an airhead, but he loves his dad and Christmas more than anything. When Arthur realizes that Steve’s error-proof system has allowed one child to be overlooked, Arthur becomes determined to make sure that she gets the present she deserves. Along with Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), Santa’s father who misses the glory days of Christmas, and an expert gift-wrapper elf, Byrony (Ashley Jensen), Arthur sets off to make sure Christmas stays magical for every child in the world.
Director Sarah Smith fills every scene with subtle and hilarious visual jokes; too many, in fact, to catch on first viewing. Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham offer a very touching take on an admittedly well-worn theme: How do you keep Christmas special despite skepticism? That is what Arthur represents, the desire to keep one night magical no matter what the cost. Arthur Christmas is brilliant because it effortlessly intertwines the message of Christmas magic with silly humor for kids of all ages.
McAvoy gives one of his most animated (no pun intended) performances yet. After this year’s X-Men: First Class and his more serious work, it’s fun to watch him go over-the-top to voice a character who is the epitome of hope and optimism. Laurie does a fine job as Steve, though he isn’t really challenged at any time, except maybe trying to keep a straight face in the recording studio while delivering some of the funniest lines in the movie. Broadbent is delightful as the out-of-practice Santa who should retire, but just wants to hang on to the title. The best performance, though, is Nighy as Grandsanta, a crabby complainer who just wants to feel important again.
The animation from Aardman Animations is absolutely stunning. While 3-D has often been misused as a way to boost box office earnings, here it is used appropriately to enhance the visual spectacle and draw audiences into the story. The North Pole is filled with beautiful, ice-covered images and every detail has been given full attention. Aardman deserves serious recognition for the masterful work it has done.
Arthur Christmas is fun and unique Christmas adventure that will likely become a movie that families will sit down to watch each year during the holidays. | Matthew Newlin