Thursday, December 22, 2011

Movie Review: Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas ***
Directed by: Sarah Smith.
Written by: Peter Baynham & Sarah Smith.
Starring: James McAvoy (Arthur),  Hugh Laurie (Steve), Bill Nighy (Grandsanta), Jim Broadbent (Santa), Imelda Staunton (Mrs. Santa), Ashley Jensen (Bryony), Marc Wootton (Peter), Laura Linney (North Pole Computer), Eva Longoria (Chief De Silva), Ramona Marquez (Gwen), Michael Palin (Ernie Clicker).

Arthur Christmas, the character, is so lovable that I couldn’t help but enjoy Arthur Christmas, the movie. I am a sucker for Christmas movies, and this new animated film from Aardman (the creators of Wallace and Gromitt) is a good one. Kids will enjoy it – it is full of action and humour, bright colors and of course Santa. But adults will enjoy it as well. The film has that trademark British wit, and the excellent voice cast does a stellar job with all the verbal wordplay. It isn’t a masterpiece or anything, but for what it is, it is highly enjoyable.

Arthur Christmas is the youngest son of Santa Clause. The tradition is that each Santa does 70 years on the job, before passing it down to his son. The current Santa is about to embark on that 70th run, and the older son Steve cannot wait until he gets to become Santa himself. He has already overhauled their entire system – lots of gadgets and gizmos, replacing the sled with a rocket ship that travels at the speed of light. Anyone can do Santa’s job – his highly trained team of elves take care of most of the details for him. But after he returns from what everyone assumes will be his final time out, he announces that he cannot wait to make his 71st run the following year. Steve is angry and disappointed of course. But there is a bigger problem – a child has been missed. To Arthur, who responds to the millions of letters the children send in, this is unacceptable. He doesn’t want poor Gwen to wake up on Christmas morning and think she is the only child in the world that Santa doesn’t care about. But Steve says the ship cannot make another run, at the risk of damaging it, and so they’ll ship to the present to Gwen. It will not get there on Christmas day, but it will get there in the “Christmas window”. Besides, one child in over 600 million is a statistically insignificant amount. Santa agrees with Steve, and totters off to bed. Arthur is heartbroken – but then Grand Santa comes up with an idea. He’ll break out the old sleigh and reindeer that helped him through his 70 runs, and together, he and Arthur will deliver the last present. Bryony the elf tags along as well.

I enjoyed the visual look of Arthur Christmas, even if I do miss the old school play-doh creations Aardman used to make. I understand that the process is long and cumbersome and doesn’t allow the freedom of computer animation – and I appreciate the fact that Aardman tries hard to retain the look of their play doh characters, but it isn’t quite the same. Still, it’s hard to complain too much, as Arthur Christmas is visually charming, recreating pretty much the entire world, as times have changed since Grand Santa’s day, and of course, he and Arthur get lost repeatedly. I liked the touches that the film provides to every country they come across (a particular favourite, of course, was when they fly through Toronto and Grand Santa remarks “Santa’s always come through Canada – nobody lives here”).

And I adored the voice cast as well. James McAvoy is very good as the bumbling, slightly cowardly Arthur. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he has never lost that childhood wonder of loving Christmas – I loved how much he loved his horrid Christmas slippers. Hugh Laurie is fine as the pompous ass Steve, Jim Broadbent has some good moments as Santa, just realizing now that he is little more than a figure head, Bill Nighy is crotchety and funny as Grand Santa, Ashley Jensen makes a lovable elf and Imelda Staunton sounds just like you would imagine Mrs. Clause to sound – especially when she worries about how Arthur not wearing the proper winter clothes.

I can imagine revisiting Arthur Christmas quite a few times over the years. It is fast paced, well animated, funny and charming. What else do you want an animated Christmas film to be?

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