Directed by Sarah Smith and Co-Directed by Barry Cook
November 11, 2011 (United Kingdom) / November 23, 2011 (United States)
When Santa and his elves accidentally miss a child’s gift on Christmas Arthur the son of the current Santa Claus and his free-spirited grandfather who was the previous Santa Claus along with a gift wrapping obsessed elf embark on a wild adventure to get the toy to that child.
Arthur (James McAvoy) is the well-meaning but timid son of the current Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent). Unlike his brother Steven (Hugh Laurie) he genuinely cares. For Steve it is just a job. At the core of the film though is the spirit of Christmas and maintaining that spirit during the season. Malcolm “Santa” Claus and Stephen, who looks to be in line for the job, have both lost their way. The current Santa just wants the adulation and maybe even just to feel as if he is contributing a little, but his heart is not really in the job or the happiness of the children. Even Arthur’s grandfather Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) has lost his way a little bit. His involvement in the adventure is more for his own purposes than it is anything else. Arthur however works in the mailroom and his focus is the happiness of each child. Only Arthur has pure motives in the whole thing.
Stephen, viewing it all as a title to obtain, is unphased when it is learned one child in Trelew, England named Gwen did not get her gift considering 2 billion other children got their gifts as planned. He boils everything down to a simple percentage to Arthur’s horror. Arthur idolizes his father and does not believe his dad would not care about one missed present. Arthur embodies the spirit of Saint Nicholas and the holiday. He really cares. He believes in making it magical for every child.
This film was an Aardman production and as such has all the trademark Aardman humor touches yet still manages to be a sweet Christmas film. As per usual the supporting characters tend to be a little too tightly wound or have one too many screws loose. Grandsanta is a little loopy and perhaps a touch crazy and Bryony Shelfley (Ashley Jensen), the wrapping obsessed elf that accompanies Arthur and his grandfather on their mission, is one of the most intense gift rappers I have ever encountered and a rather hilarious character.
Beginning with the opening scene showing the S-1 and the extremely complicated commando like operation involving the elves to Grandsanta and Arthur’s frantic efforts to make it to that one child, there is joke after joke in this film and one or two nods to previous Aardman productions. The blink and you miss it reference to Shawn the Sheep TV series jumped at me.
Unlike the majority of Aardman films this one is CGI and after so many years the animation still holds up. The shots are very well done, and the camera is not always static. It follows the action or shakes or whatever is needed to pull you into the scene which makes the scenes much more dynamic. There is texture to the characters and the environment.
Arthur Christmas is a genuinely funny Christmas film from Aardman and Sony Animation. I laughed the whole time. They know how to do silly and corny jokes that not only put a smile on your face but make you laugh out loud as well. They are masters of getting laughs using old school variety show type humor. And these also manage to be well used jokes and not simply forced.
They take jabs at the convention of Santa and the world in general. There are references to Cuba and real-world politics. At times though it feels a bit stuck in the Cold War with what they use in the film. I had flashbacks to cheesy films of my youth when they were tracking Grandsanta’s sleigh in the story and the government sent up fighter jets to shoot it down.
The story starts and just keeps building and building and building. It is not a frenetic end, but it is a crazy end with the last mad scramble to get that gift to the right town in the right part of the world with everyone going to the wrong Trelew because nobody seems to know how to use a GPS. I love a good running gag.
The lesson of the film if there is one to be found is not only to maintain the genuine spirit of Christmas but do what you do for the right reasons. Do not do something for the wrong reasons or do something good for the wrong reasons. Do them for the right reasons. Stephen wanted a position that brought joy and happiness not to bring joy and happiness but because he felt it was his. Grandsanta did not wish to get that one toy to the child because it was what should be done but rather to show his family he still could do the job and do it better. Only Arthur felt that it needed to be delivered because every child mattered.
The voice acting is superb. We have a very talented cast of live action performers giving life to the characters in this animated feature. Bill Nighy in particular seemed freed here. I love the man’s work in just about everything. I just cannot think of him doing anybody like Grandsanta in live action.
Arthur Christmas is a sweet Christmas film with good animation and a great story filled with laughs. It has got some somewhat mature moments but is safe for the whole family. Watch it!