‘Arthur Christmas’ Review (2011)

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Arthur Christmas movie review
Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and Arthur (James McAvoy) in Arthur Christmas
Photo: Columbia Pictures

Among the many types of films I love, there’s nothing better than a quality Christmas movie and it’s not as if we have a lot to choose from and when it comes to animation I can’t even name a favorite. The best animated Christmas stories I can think of are all short television specials rather than feature length films. To that point, Arthur Christmas begs a comparison to just such a special as its excellent first 20 minutes play almost exactly like Disney’s “Prep and Landing” while the rest of the story is a bit more traditional. However, traditional or not, there is more than enough enjoyment to be had with this movie, making it easily the best animated, feature-length Christmas feature I’ve ever seen.

With Arthur Christmas, Santa has a new method of delivering presents to the millions of children on Christmas Eve. Gone are the days of sleighs and reindeer. Nowadays Santa relies on the flying holiday fortress the S-1 designed and commanded by his forward-thinking son Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie).

Santa hardly even has to deliver a gift any longer as a team of elves use high-tech gadgetry and superior wrapping skills to prep and deliver presents with ease. In fact, if a kid asks how Santa delivers so many presents in one night ever again Arthur Christmas has supplied the answer. However, these technological advancements have turned Christmas into a micro-managed business rather than a night of joy and happiness and the Claus family is slowly fracturing as a result.

As his role in the present delivery process has diminished, Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is going through the motions rather than playing an active role in the festivities and Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) feels left out and forgotten as Steve’s contraptions have replaced the sleigh bells and reindeer he used when he was delivering presents. But amidst all the Claus family pride, or lack thereof, one member is still won over by the spirit of Christmas… Santa’s clumsy, younger son Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy).

Arthur works around the clock opening letters to Santa, taking in the wishes from children around the world and doing his best to ensure each one gets exactly what they’ve asked for. His heart is as big as they come and when he learns that, despite all of Steve’s technological advancements, a child has been missed he goes into a frenzy only to be met by resistance from both Steve and Santa. After all, what is just one child out of millions? A question Arthur would never even think to ask and as such he resolves to make sure that last present gets delivered by any means possible.

With the help of Grandsanta and the expert wrapping skills of Bryony the elf (voiced by Ashley Jensen), the trio set off to ensure the Christmas spirit remains alive and well and Christmas doesn’t just become a numbers game.

Arthur Christmas is a pleasant tale of new world technology meets old world elbow grease as it doesn’t dispense with the sleigh bells jingling, but at the same time manages to give it a new school spin mixing touch pad gadgets, GPS and a little bit of magic dust.

The absolute best thing about the film is that screenwriters Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith (who also directs) didn’t rely on one single character for all of the jokes and they don’t fall back on pop culture gags for the humor. Instead you get in-jokes such as a movie in Arthur’s office labeled Reindeer Hunter and Grandsanta’s pet reindeer with a cone around its head. These are simple jokes that make you laugh and will continue to make you laugh or, at the very least, smile every time you watch the film rather than grow old and stale as can often be the case.

If I was to point out one stand out character it would easily be Bill Nighy as the voice of Grandsanta, a curmudgeonly old codger, determined to prove the way he delivered presents back in the old days is just as efficient as Steve’s flying fortress. He has an aversion to elves and has several solid one liners aimed at Bryony who stows away aboard their sleigh.

Arthur Christmas does end up running a little long and may not become an all out Christmas must each year, but I would have no problem revisiting it again and again. It mixes comedy and heart with characters you want to cheer for and actually has some truly cinematic moments with excellent animation and a well-placed voice cast. My Christmas favorites remain It’s a Wonderful Life and Love Actually, but as far as animated Christmas films go, Arthur Christmas is at the top of the list.

GRADE: B