Arthur Christmas (2011)
Written by Peter Baynham & Sarah Smith; directed by Sarah Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Arthur Claus (James McAvoy) is the bumbling son of the reigning Santa, Malcolm Claus (Jim Broadbent). Arthur is relegated to the Letter Department where he can presumably do no damage. Arthur’s brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is the heir apparent to the title of Santa. Steve is handsome, confident, and in charge of the North Pole command center that monitors Santa’s gift-giving flight around the world. The film opens with a bravura set piece showing how Santa is able to stop in millions of homes in one night. Hint: he has the help of thousands of elves.
When Arthur discovers that one gift was accidentally undelivered, he becomes determined to get it to the unfortunate girl before Christmas sunrise. Even with the help of his retired grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and a plucky elf (Ashley Jensen) from the Wrapping Department, can Arthur travel around the world in time?
There have been many movies over the years where Christmas must be saved from disaster, but Arthur Christmas has a very creative take on it. From the opening scene where it’s established that Santa is really a dynasty through the centuries, a title handed down from father to son, to the paramilitary operation to get millions of presents delivered in one night, to the misadventures of Arthur and his grandsanta as they try to make sure one little girl is not disappointed, Arthur Christmas is fun, creative, and original. Produced by Aardman Animations in association with Sony Pictures Animation, this CGI animated film delivers Aardman’s distinct brand of quirky humor and style.
The art direction maintains the slightly skewed look of an Aardman claymation film. The character designs are asymmetric and the surface textures are realistic yet bold. The North Pole command center and Santa’s high-tech sleigh are clean and modern.
Sometimes celebrity voice talent backfires, but here it works beautifully, the English accents lending a sense of gravity that heightens the silliness. Bill Nighy is particularly good, conveying wisdom that is tinged with resentment of the modern gift-delivery methods his son and grandson use.
Arthur Christmas is a funny, heartwarming, and poignant look at the Santa Claus mythos, adding a family dynamic that will resonate with children and adults. I expect Arthur Christmas will become a joyful holiday favorite for years to come.