Theatrical Review: In the cinematic holiday battle between high-tech gimcrackery and heartfelt tradition, the delightfully funny, and veddy British Arthur Christmas gets to have its milk and cookies (and super-spaceship mega-sleigh) and eat ‘em, too. That makes it one of the best new holiday films of recent years.
It sure is, but boy is it an enjoyable one. In this animated holiday treat, the current Santa (Jim Broadbent) is supposed to be retiring so his ramrod, CEO-style son Steve (Hugh Laurie) can take over next year. Left out of any succession talk is accident-prone second son Arthur (James McAvoy), who cheerfully works in the Santa Letter Department. (That children’s handwritten letters haven’t been supplanted by e-mails is one of the movie’s many charms.)
Of course in the tradition of bumbling Christmas comedies like Ernest Saves Christmas (a personal fave) and Fred Clause, a stray, undelivered present sends the pure-hearted and true-believing Arthur on a wild, worldwide quest with grumpy Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and an overly enthusiastic wrapping elf (Ashley Jensen).
2) What’s Arthur Christmas’ New Twist on the Old Santa Story?
In the name of global logistics and efficiency, Santa-wannabe Steve has designed an awesome mile-long super “sleigh” that looks like a holly red starship Enterprise—en masse gift delivery is directed from the North Pole command center and executed with Mission: Impossible precision by battalions of commando elves. However, to get that last, lost present to a little girl in England, Arthur and Grandsanta dust off the old-school wooden sleigh, complete with a team of wayward reindeer.
Absolutely. The emphasis is still on wacky Christmas fun and warm holiday fuzzies, but for the grown-ups Arthur Christmas also balances subtle and refreshingly cheeky British wit with wild Ernest-style sleigh-jinks. Plus the movie’s mix of military tech adventure and traditional Santa magic not only provides entertainment for viewers of all ages, but gives Arthur Christmas its thematic tension.
4) “Thematic Tension”? That Sounds Highfalutin for a Christmas Movie
Don’t worry—the British smarties at Aardman Animation (the studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run) rival Pixar when it comes to seamlessly melding clever jokes and eye-popping action with well-crafted story and characters. In fact, with its portrayal of the North Pole as a well-oiled production line, Arthur Christmas most resembles a Santa-ized Monsters, Inc., right down to its gee-whiz visual dazzle and aw-shucks heart.
Well, there is a new Justin Bieber version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that plays in a music video before the film and during the credits.
The Final Word
Thanks to its stellar (but un-showy) voice cast, first-time director Sarah Smith, and long-time Alan Partridge writer Peter Baynham, Arthur Christmas manages slyly subversive irreverence while still delivering Yuletide smiles and hugs. So far it’s the season’s best animated family film (we still have Tintin in the wings), and don’t be surprised if it ends up on your holiday film faves list for many Christmases to come.