Directed by Sarah Smith
The big one is “how does one man deliver so many toys in one night?” and that’s answered almost immediately as we watch Santa helming a cloaked spaceship full of kamikaze elves who use SWAT techniques to get billions of presents delivered by Christmas morning. Santa’s clumsy son Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) has been relegated to the mailroom, while his older son Steve (Hugh Laurie) runs the entire operation with military precision out of the North Pole’s NASA-like control center. When one little girl’s present gets lost during the mission, the ever-enthusiastic Arthur takes it upon himself to rectify it, as his grandfather (a former Santa himself) commandeers the neglected reindeer and sleigh for the mission.
It’s a simple story, one that’s easy to comprehend regardless of your age or religious leanings, because like the best Christmas stories, it’s something that can be enjoyed and accepted without having to think too much about whether things make logical sense or not. The family squabbles between the various characters offers the most fun and laughs, because we get to see that the Clauses have some of the same family issues we all face around this time of year.
Aardman’s excellent track record in voice casting is slightly marred by McAvoy’s processed high-pitched voice, which becomes quite grating, since he mostly uses it to scream at the top of his lungs throughout the film. It’s quite a contrast to Jim Broadbent’s warm and kindly voice, which is perfect for the current Santa, as is that of Imelda Staunton as his wife. Bill Nighy’s crotchety older Claus offers some of the film’s funniest bits, but also a few poignant moments, and Hugh Laurie seems to relish playing Arthur’s arrogant brother.
For the most part, the animation style works well, particularly the stylized look of the characters, though something just doesn’t look right about the animals the trio encounter in Africa, which are made more cartoony, like something out of “Madagascar,” which immediately removes any sense of danger they may bring. It also takes you out of the movie a bit since the reindeer are portrayed more realistically. The 3D really isn’t anything special and mostly unnecessary in this case as it really doesn’t add very much, so in this case, we recommend saving your 3 bucks as we believe the movie works fine in 2D.
Despite any criticisms, it’s hard to be too harsh on the film even knowing full well how it’s all going to end (as you will), because the results are cute and clever and there are enough heartwarming moments that will bring a tear to your eye. While it may not be as consistently funny as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or Aardman’s “Wallace & Gromit” movies, parents should enjoy being thrust fully into the Christmas spirit as much as their kids making “Arthur Christmas” feel like something that could one day be ranked among Christmas classics like “Rudolph” and others.