In this, the season of rampant consumerism and manufactured good will, it’s always refreshing to see a holiday-themed movie that feels genuine and reflects everything the season should be about. It’s also a rare thing to see a Christmas movie that doesn’t feature a story that’s been told a million times before in addition to possessing an intelligent wit that will delight both the kiddies and the adults in the audience. Yes, Arthur Christmas is an early gift for film fans of all ages and a movie that is very deservedly bound to become an annual holiday tradition.
The wildly original story centres around Santa’s two sons: Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a barrel-chested high achiever who oversees the annual Christmas Eve operation with military precision; and Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), a good-hearted klutz who’s been shuttled off to the letters department where he gleefully spends his time corresponding with all of the bright-eyed children of the world.
As we’re told, the title of Santa is passed down through the generations and the incumbent (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is about to celebrate his 70th Christmas at the helm. Steve has his eye on inheriting the Santa suit when his Dad retires and has shown his worth by streamlining the yearly toy delivery via an impressively high-tech present tracking system, an aerodynamic spaceship-sized sleigh that does more than 100,000 miles an hour, and battalion of highly trained elves that rappel to the ground, avoiding alarm systems, family pets and awakened children with the efficiency and precision of the Navy SEALS. It’s a system that never fails to deliver the billions of toys on time…until one Christmas Eve when a small glitch causes one toy to get lost in the shuffle.
Since Steve is distraught that his Father has postponed his retirement for another year and Santa is downright tuckered out, no one else seems to care that a little girl in England will wake up on Christmas morning without the pink twinkle bike she requested under the tree, thus confirming her suspicions that Santa may not be real. Cue feckless, clumsy, inept Arthur to come up with a way to get that toy to its destination in the very few hours left until dawn.
With the help of Grand Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy), an ornery coot vehemently opposed to the soulless streamlining of the toy drop (he likes to brag about the days when all he needed to complete his Christmas mission were “six reindeer and a drunken elf”), his mothballed old sled and a feisty gift-wrapper elf (voiced by Ashley Jensen), Arthur takes to the skies determined to save the holiday for one little girl and in turn reminding everyone in the North Pole about the true spirit of Christmas.
This sparkling bauble comes courtesy the folks at Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run), and writer/director Sarah Smith (Brit sketch comedy The League of Gentlemen) who have sprinkled the film with sly adult humour that will flurry over the heads of the younger audience members (including fun sight gags like a well-placed canister of “chimney lube”), ensuring that each repeat viewing is sure to unearth new comedic gems to appreciate. It’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.
The film is in eye-popping digitized 3-D that doesn’t really add a lot to the already bright and twinkling story that’s more about nourishing the soul than trendy marketing gimmicks studios like to tack on to get butts in seats (speaking of which: the movie is preceded by a Justin Bieber music video; aka an excellent reason to take a little extra time in the concession line).
Not unlike Santa himself, Arthur Christmas delivers. Truly great holiday movies for the entire family are a rare gift indeed. Be sure to get yourself to a theatre to unwrap this one.