‘Arthur Christmas’ finds its place among holiday classics


The movie forces Arthur Clause to fill the role of his famous father.

By By Natasha Palance, Staff Writer

 When it comes to Christmas movies, most are quickly forgotten as soon as the holiday season ends. However, a select few go on to become touchstones, beloved and re-watched by families year after year. Arthur Christmas may have what it takes to join the latter category.

With a clever script that successfully updates many Christmas myths, and dialogue that crackles with sophisticated wit, this movie offers the kind of pre-holiday experience that parents and children alike will appreciate.

 The film retains a distinctly British personality, and the kind of odd, eccentric character design that is expected from the English-based Aardman animation studio, the folks who brought us Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. The look of the figures is not remotely conventional, including Santa Claus, which reminds the audience that they are watching a cartoon, not a replica of real life.

 Nonetheless, it’s the clever story by Peter Baynham and director Sarah Smith that lifts this film above the norm and manages to put a new spin on old material. The question it poses is: How does Santa get all those presents out to millions (billions?) of certifiably well-behaved children in one night?

The answer is that Santa employs a vast squadron of gift-delivering elves in what amounts to an annual global commando raid. The crisis here is that one little girl named Gwen (Ramona Marquez, The King’s Speech) in Cornwall has been mistakenly overlooked. The dilemma is trying to figure out how to get a pink bicycle under her tree in time for Christmas morning.

 Since the Santa family is somewhat dysfunctional, it falls to 136-year-old Grandsanta (Bill Nighy, Rango) and his grandson (and possible Santa heir) Arthur (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class) to save the day.

Arthur and Grandsanta steal off with the traditional sleigh and reindeer in a race to deliver the bike before dawn. The only problem is, Grandsanta is somewhat crazy and Arthur is completely inexperienced.

 Letting Arthur and Grand Santa carry the theme causes Steve (Arthur’s older brother) and Santa to be underdeveloped. The film goes out of its way to let us know Steve is not a villain and he means well, but there is some selfishness at work.

 As for Santa, his character does not portray much at all. He doesn’t seem to truly appreciate either of his sons, and he’s a reactive character who never seems to have any opinions of his own. Viewers are left to wonder why Arthur admired him so much in the first place. But thankfully, Arthur Christmas is not about how Santa got his groove back.

 Smith not only creates wonderful characters with Arthur and Grandsanta, but she lets the world come alive with thoughtful and clever details. Smith and Aardman color the world with fun little decorations like the red-and-green Christmas trees that make up camouflage on Steve’s uniform, the Christmas tree-shaped goatee on Steve’s face, and even having his enlisted rank logo be in the shape of a Christmas tree.

 It’s easy to be cynical about Christmas because it is a consumer-driven holiday, and it’s tough for some (i.e. everyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas) to understand why songs like “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” create warm and fuzzy feelings. Arthur Christmas washes away every ounce of cynicism that could be felt toward Christmas and replaces it with Arthur’s energy and enthusiasm. Through Arthur’s wide eyes, Christmas becomes about giving and the belief that a stranger cares about you so much that they will travel the globe to bring you a gift.

 The voice cast is so exceptional that simply listening to the film is a treat. The wonderful voice cast, which includes James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy, clearly were not cast for their name value alone, but because they can actually act with their voices alone, infusing their characters with personality to spare. If there were an award for best-animated voice ensemble they would win in an instant.

 Animations can spin like whirligigs with no particular place to go, continuous motion machines built just to babysit ADD kids. In happy contrast, Arthur Christmas delivers small and large-scale action that’s consistently purposeful and focused, graced, like every element in this heartwarming Christmas fable, by the gift of intelligent imagination.