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If you’ve never seen a Wallace & Gromit short or their feature “Curse of the Were-Rabbit”, then you’re missing a signature style of storytelling. One that is on fine display in Aardman Animation’s new film “Arthur Christmas”.
Arthur is Santa Claus’ son, one of two Santa has (there seem to be no daughters in the bloodline that goes back hundreds of years). Arthur is the purest believer in the spirit of Christmas you can find, and his brother Steve is a strict leader, guiding Santa through a gift-delivering expedition with military precision every Christmas Eve. This is a very clever, unique tale about how Santa delivers so many presents in one night, involving a little more cynicism than the Wallace & Gromit shorts, but the cynicism is purposefully set up only to be gleefully knocked down by an authentic sense of holiday magic, embodied 100% by Arthur.
Christmas is delivered every year by Santa acting mainly as a figurehead, while Steve coordinates an army of elves who get the job done in a giant sleigh that travels up to 150,000 miles per hour. During this operation, Arthur is roundly dismissed as a harmless but unskilled goof. There’s also a GrandSanta, who at one point did the same job with fewer tools, who wants to show up Steve’s overblown procedural. So as you can see, as with any holiday film, there are plenty of people here who stand to learn something.
There are virtually no flaws with Arthur, who is easy to follow as a main character. One kid’s present is forgotten on Christmas Eve, and it’s up to Arthur to make sure no child is left behind. As voiced by James McAvoy, Arthur speaks from a place of wonder with nearly every line. Also well cast are Hugh Laurie as the order-barking Steve and Bill Nighy bypassing his usual authoritative voice to play the loopy, damn-near-senile GrandSanta. The best work is Jim Broadbent’s, as a befuddled but sincere Santa Claus.
Outside of an annoying Justin Bieber song that’s more annoyingly present in an annoying pre-film music video, there’s little glomming on to pop culture drops, and more finding the comedy in every moment. This preserves the movie’s originality and prevents it from becoming another “Smurfs”/”Alvin and the Chipmunks”/You-name-it knockoff.
Aardman, in all the previously-mentioned projects as well as “Creature Comforts”, get laughs out of the well-mannered behavior of the British. So even though Santa and the gang are Icelandic or Greenlandian in location, they’re all perfectly British in speech and behavior. I don’t think Aardman has the means or desire to American-ize one of their projects, and we’re all better off for that.
Directed by: Sarah Smith
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Run Time: 97 Minutes
Company: Aardman Animation