Christmas gets here earlier and earlier each year to the point that it’s finding a foothold on the calendar just days after Halloween and causes little children to ask “mommy, did we skip a holiday?“. This time however you won’t mind Christmas jumping the gun. Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman bring us a funny holiday film that is beyond delightful and simply gorgeous. I hate to throw myself into a review, but this time I just cannot resist; I whole heartily loved this movie!! It’s the kind of film that hits on all cylinders, appeals to all age groups and demographics and is a story that is not just fun but one worth telling. Arthur Christmas takes us on a super charged holiday ride like we’ve rarely never seen before.
The Clauses come from a long line of great Santas going back generations and the current St. Nick, Malcolm, is about to step down. He has two sons Steve and Arthur. Steve is the advantageous forward thinking type who is ready and able to succeed his father. Arthur, on the other hand, has no desire to be Santa and he’s fine with it. He enjoys staying behind the scenes and returning letters to children all over the world on behalf of his father. The sun is about to rise on December 25th and Steve has just commanded his father’s last gift giving trip. Utilizing the latest technology and directing the covert army of Elves to deliver presents, Steve has shown his father the efficiency of the gargantuan hi-tech spacecraft/floating city the S-1. But when one toy is misplaced Steve (and even Santa) is fine with an infinitesimal margin of error. However Arthur is not and will do whatever it takes to put a smile on the face of little Gwen by delivering the bike she asked for and keeping the spirit of Christmas alive.
As long as there’s been a Santa there have been questions and doubts surrounding the plausibility of his existence. Timeless ponderings like How can he deliver all those presents in one night? What if your house has no chimney? What if you’re not home on Christmas Eve? etc. Well Arthur Christmas, not content to just give us a simple vague or throwaway answer, shows us how he does it in what is probably the finest and most fun intro/first 20 minutes of a kids movie I’ve ever seen. We see, in amazing detail and creativity just how Santa’s immense operation works. Think Monster’s Inc. meets Polar Express, as far as scale, and then some.
Then the movie slows, gets some exposition out of the way and then it’s back to the races as the real story begins. Truth be told, it doesn’t venture into totally new territory but what it does is give us a re-imagined and ingenious look at how a classic Santa exists in a tech savvy and modern day and age. Also this is a movie that is far more than a point A to B story where A, predictably, is the North Pole and B is Gwen’s house. Further it also resists the urge to make this something of a good vs. evil story about a bad guy stealing all the world’s presents or some greedy corporate executive and instead turns this seemingly simple story into a fast, fun, family-based comedy with tons of heart.
What makes this exciting and yet brings a lot of depth is that there’s a touching and tangible family drama beneath the red and green which is entirely satisfying. It’s that endearing family dynamic that really pulls us into the story. Santa is a little too old and his son is eager to take his place. Yet as the world seems to be changing faster than the entire North Pole can keep up, Grandsanta teaches us sometimes the old ways are still the best ways. Another angle they went for was the just because it’s outdated, it doesn’t always mean it’s no good and further sometimes there’s a benefit to going back to the old ways. These lessons are not new but they fit the story and are spun to feel fresh and relevant.
The voice acting is top notch but one smart decision on Sony/Aardman’s part is that they chose talented big names that were right for the part, not just to put big names in the movie. James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and even Hugh Laurie are nearly unrecognizable in their roles and bring unbelievable warmth and emotion to the story with their characters. Having a high profile actor in a role can sometimes take you out of the story but the whole cast, including Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton blended in perfectly. As an adult it’s tough for a kids films to be able to both capture the magic of being a child and also make you feel like a kid but I honestly felt that way more than a handful of times and got chills while watching this…that and the Dolby Digital 3D was pretty much icing on the cake.
Arthur Christmas is a solid film and bound to become an unlikely hit this year and is on par with anything from Pixar in terms of overall story quality and just all around fun. It has a message and story that are as fun as it they are universally understood and appealing. While the trailers make it out to be ho-hum and unoriginal it really gives us a look at Santa, the North Pole and Christmas magic we’ve never seen before. Arthur Christmas is ingenious, heartwarming and hysterical. I don’t think I laughed harder in one sitting this whole year than I did watching this. In short, it’s probably the very best Christmas movie since The Polar Express, maybe even A Christmas Story, and destined to be a classic for years to come. It is, without a doubt, a must see!!