Following a year where there weren’t any new Christmas films in release around the holidays, it’s nice that this year has a really great family film in the form of the delightful Arthur Christmas. Aardman Animations (Chicken Run, the Wallace and Gromit shorts) have come up with a sweet yuletide confection brimming with everything holiday aficionados crave: heart, big laughs, peace on Earth, and good will towards all.
The 20th Santa to accept the coveted position of the world’s largest gift giver (Jim Broadbent) is set to retire and hand over the business to his hyper-motivated, straight-laced tech nerd son, Steve (Hugh Laurie). None of this matters much to Steve’s eternally optimistic brother Arthur (James McAvoy) who seems more than content living out his days in a hideous green novelty sweater responding to children’s letters in the mailroom.
After Steve’s holiday machinery experiences a technical difficulty resulting in a young English girl not getting her present delivered, Santa himself is too tired to bother going out to deliver a single present and Steve is annoyed on two fronts after being passed up yet again by his glory hog father and the by the implication that his gift giving system is less than perfect. Arthur takes it upon himself to make sure that no present is left behind, and is aided in his quest by his bumbling, old school Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and a renegade gift wrapping elf.
Much like previous Aardman efforts, there is a wealth of imagination and technical ingenuity on display in Arthur Christmas. Only the British studio’s second feature length foray into digital animation following the underrated Flushed Away, the film shows Santa’s workshop in two different lights: the NASA style mission control centre it’s become and the old school nuts and bolts factory it used to be. The scope of director Sarah Smith’s vision at the North Pole is filled with small details and hundreds of lovingly crafted elves, toys, and other small touches other films would’ve overlooked. Once Arthur and Grandsanta begin their quest, the film features some breathtaking action sequences in Africa and Toronto. It’s not everyday one sees Santa’s sleigh using Toronto’s City Hall as a halfpipe.
A lot of the film’s success can be attributed to the voice cast, as well. McAvoy has never sounded more (pardon the pun) animated. Effectively capturing the joy and clumsiness of Arthur, McAvoy does some of his best acting work without even being on screen. Laurie is effectively pompous and Broadbent plays Santa as a combination of befuddled, bored, and exhausted. The biggest scene stealer, however, has to be Nighy who doesn’t have a single unfunny line as the super British grandfather who always like to remind everyone just how tough it was to deliver presents during the war.
While the film might be a bit too British and slightly overlong for the under five set, Arthur Christmas is handily the best family Christmas adventure in years. In a week that also sees the release of heavy hitters like The Muppets and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, this is a film that deserves equal attention simply because it’s the kind of film that becomes more and more of rarity as the years wear on.
Voices of: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent
Directed by: Sarah Smith
Top image: A scene from Arthur Christmas. Courtesy Sony Pictures.