Title: Arthur Christmas
Directed By: Sarah Smith
Voice Cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen
Want to put the odds in your movie’s favor? Make a Christmas movie. Unoriginality, cheesy humor, goofy characters? All is excused when it’s done in the name of holiday spirit. While Arthur Christmas does make use of that get out of jail free card quite often, there is enough solid filmmaking behind the Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation collaboration to label Arthur Christmas above average holiday fair.
It’s November 25th and little Gwen is placing her order in advance, sending Santa a letter requesting a pink twinkle bike this holiday season. A few days later, that very letter lands in the hands of Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy), son of the current Santa (Jim Broadbent). December 24th arrives and Santa and the massive elf squadron, led by Arthur’s brother, Steve (Hugh Laurie), from home base, take action, delivering presents swiftly and generally clandestinely, then boarding their souped up version of the classic sleigh, the S1, and zipping over to the next city to do it all again. Santa and the elves return to cheers and applause. Another perfect Christmas – that is until it’s discovered that a single child has been forgotten; Gwen never got her twinkle bike.
Hoping to soon succeed his father as the next Santa, Steve’s ready to just brush this one under the rug, but Arthur insists they cannot allow just one child to wake up and think Santa’s forgotten her. At Grandsanta’s (Bill Nighy) urging, Arthur dusts off the old classic sleigh, hops in the passenger seat and Grandsanta attempts to fly them to Gwen’s home in England.
It’s tough to go wrong with a movie about a noble attempt to ensure every single child in the world wakes up with a present under the tree on Christmas morning. Then again, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to make some errors along the way, but while Arthur Christmas does hit a number of bumps in the road, the holiday spirit most certainly prevails.
First issue? Irritating characters. While you do instantly get behind Arthur’s mission, Arthur himself is, well, annoyingly bumbling. It’s really no wonder Steve and the control center elves can’t stand him; he makes a mess of their operation. Once the present error is discovered, naturally, Arthur starts to gain sympathy courtesy of his steadfastness to get Gwen her gift. Then, once he’s literally pushed out the door and into the sleigh, Arthur is entirely out of his element and, while still a very happy character, he isn’t as overly peppy as he is at home base. From there, Arthur must function as the more levelheaded of the bunch, a duty that suits the character well.
Arthur’s determined sidekick, the wrapping elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen), suffers from a similar degree of annoyingness, if not more. Bryony’s relentless noble to the Christmas cause, something that leads her to stoop to seriously silly levels, but, even more frustrating, it takes quite a while to, first, catch her name, and then even longer to figure out if she’s a male or female elf. Nothing against people with mohawks or eyebrow rings, but it did seem like odd costume choices for an elf with a wildly high-pitched voice in a children’s animated movie.
However, balancing Bryony out quite nicely is the somewhat out-of-his-mind Grandsanta. On top of simply having the funnier dialogue of the film, much of Grandsanta’s gags have a refreshingly adult tone, something that’s very much welcomed considering Arthur Christmas most certainly veers towards the juvenile side.
But, of course, this is a movie for children, so the tone is really justifiable and then enhanced through colorful and bubbly animation. The design team delivers some stellar work in terms of bringing the world of the North Pole to life and that is fueled by an immense amount of creativity on the writers’ part. The whole idea of the elves going hi-tech and delivering presents secret agent-style is immensely entertaining. On the other hand, as the script is concerned, the rest of the material is rather run-of-the-mill. Characters fit into the typical stereotypes, calamities ensue and, of course, in the end, we all learn a very valuable lesson.
Ultimately, we return to the original question; how can one dislike a movie about Christmas? Scrooges might take issue with Arthur Christmas’ in-your-face childish humor, the straight cartoon animation design and the by-the-book plot, but for those who are easily swayed by a little holiday spirit, Arthur Christmas will nestle in quite nicely with your holiday season plans.
Voice Acting: B+