Bristol-based Aardman Animation has become famous for bringing us classics like the Wallace & Gromit films and Chicken Run. Ditching the stop-motion animations for CGI and 3D technology, Aardman presents Arthur Christmas, an inventive story explaining the answers to all those questions kids have about Santa. While it’s cute and fun, it doesn’t have the charm of their previous films and leaves much to be desired out of a fairly limited plot.
In this British tale, Santa has had to stay on top of the latest technologies in order to get through the Holidays. Santa (Jim Broadbent) has an army of ‘special ops’ elves that help him deliver all his gifts. They have long since dismissed the reindeer and sleigh, opting instead for an Enterprise-style ship (that’s a Star Trek reference for you non-trekkies) that’s fueled by milk and cookies. Santa has even become more of a figurehead than that jolly, hardworking elf that we know, only delivering one or two gifts as a display of tradition with the elves holding his hand the whole way. HQ is centered at the North Pole, and the whole show is run by Santa’s son Steve (Hugh Laurie), who’s eager to take his father’s place after his retirement. Everything seems to be running like clockwork, until a gift falls off the conveyer belt. Santa and Steve are prepared to call Christmas Eve a success, with the single left behind child falling into an acceptable margin of error.
Santa’s other son, Arthur (James McAvoy), refuses to accept any error. He’s the son that got stuck answering all of the letters from children, and for good reason. Arthur is clumsy, gangly, and afraid of everything. One thing he has though, is the spirit of Christmas. He teams up with Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and spunky little elf (Ashley Jensen as Bryony) to try to deliver the gift before dawn’s first light.
The animation in Arthur Christmas is spectacular, especially in the fast-paced opening scene. There’s lots of attention to detail and the backgrounds and scenery are superb. Aardman Animations brought their signature look to the new style of animation. All the character models are disproportionate without being too extreme, giving them an endearing quality. The 3D technology is used more so in the creation of the entire environment, giving the film a feeling of depth and detail, rather than being gimmicky. That being said, you’d do just as well to watch it in 2D, since you wouldn’t have to wear those color-dampening glasses.
The voice cast are great, especially Bill Nighy and Ashley Jensen. They really brought life to their characters, and stole every scene they were in. The script centers around the idea that we have all started seeing Christmas as just another mechanized holiday that should be executed like a successful corporate operation. Arthur challanges us to remember what the true spirit of Christmas is…over, and over, and over.
Here’s where things start going downhill for Arthur Christmas. The entire movie revolves around a 2 hour window on Christmas eve in which Arthur tries to deliver the gift and antics ensue. The movie is fairly predictable and the humor is spotty — there just weren’t as many laugh-out-loud moments as there should have been, though part of that could be due to the British humor. There’s a big lull right in the middle of the film, and the children in our audience were quickly loosing interest and getting restless.
While Arthur Christmas is a little lacking in story depth and humor, it’s still a solid film that you could feel comfortable taking your whole family to see. Children over 8 will enjoy it more than the young ones, but overall everyone will have a good time.
I give Arthur Christmas 3 “Retired Reindeer” out of 5.