Aardman Animations return to the silver screen with Arthur Christmas, their first feature release in five years. The cheerful CGI holiday tale sees Santa Claus’ son, Arthur, scrambling to deliver a new bicycle to an overlooked young girl before the sun rises on Christmas morning in England. Employing a talented and diverse cast of voices from James McAvoy to Joan Cusack, Arthur Christmas is full of kooky misadventures, while boasting many clever jokes and gags that will manage to put smiles on the viewer’s face, regardless of age.
A young girl’s letter questioning exactly how Santa manages to deliver so many presents all over the world on Christmas Eve opens the film and Arthur (McAvoy) is introduced as Santa’s letter answering son. After panning across portraits displaying the lineage of Santa Claus the 20th, the action gets under way as the delivery operation takes off. Elf battalions, headed by Santa’s older son and heir-apparent, Steve (a marvelous Hugh Laurie) rain down from the massive S1 (a modern-day take on Santa’s sleigh) to stuff stockings and place gifts beneath trees. The impossible mission is ingeniously executed and a true pleasure to watch. Relegated to figure-head status, Santa (Jim Broadbent) puts in appearances while the elves keep the night on track. When a brief panic means one gift goes undelivered, Christmas camouflaged Steve is unmoved and convinces all but Arthur, that one missed child doesn’t matter. Craving one final shot at his glory days, Grand Santa (Bill Nighy, stealing the show) teams up with Arthur to attempt the impossible; making the last-minute delivery undetected.
The plot of Arthur Christmas is woven well and presents a unique take on just what might go on behind the scenes at the North Pole. Success is dependent on training and technology, with the HoHo 3000 smartphones proving indispensable. The post-delivery Claus family dinner is full of conflict as the generations clash. At it’s heart, Arthur Christmas is an underdog story that re-affirms the importance of each and every child, but never lets the good intentions get in the way of an entertaining and enjoyable experience. Here, the devil in is the detail, as subtle touches and jokes are planted throughout the film, often-times without attention being drawn to them. Even seemingly obvious gags are so brilliantly executed, they become a thing of beauty (Steve’s outfit later in the film, for example, is pure genius in its simplicity). Visually, Arthur Christmas does well to maintain the Aardman feel whilst also taking a big step forward. It may not be as visually impressive as Pixar’s work or the recent Tintin, but then it doesn’t need to be. The animation is crisp, vibrant and most importantly- fun. The 3D doesn’t add a whole lot, but neither does it detract from the imagery nor the story. As could be expected, the film is not without its contrived moments; the recovery of Grand Santa’s sleigh being the most glaring and while it’s not a major flaw, it is irksome because the rest of the story is so well written. It’s also best to not think too hard about the timeline in which the film takes place.
Minor niggles aside, Arthur Christmas delivers Christmas joy by the sleigh-load. Smart and good-natured, the film also has just enough edge to keep it from becoming too sugary a treat, while the subtle, tucked away jokes will make it a blu-ray must have for many. Arthur Christmas is bound to make even the biggest Grinch leave the cinema with a grin and deserves a place amongst the Christmas classics.
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By Jeff Galasso. To read more of Jeff’s writing visit LondonFilmFanatiq.com
|Starring:||James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton.|
|Running Time :||97 Minutes|