Rating: PG (some mild rude humor)
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Directed by: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
Rating: 4 out of 5
In the animated film “Arthur Christmas,” the titular character Arthur (James McAvoy) is the well-meaning but klutzy son of Santa (Jim Broadbent), who lately seems to be more interested in Santa glory than Christmas spirit. His other son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), oversees the distribution of gifts like a drill sergeant and is eager to inherit the title of Santa from his father. Meanwhile, elves such as Bryony (Ashley Jensen) try not to lose sight of why they work so hard each year, even as the joy is being sucked out of Christmas by Steve and even Santa himself.
Finally, it is Christmas Eve, and all of the presents are loaded up and delivered to children across the globe, with the exception of one gift. Even with Steve overseeing operations like a hawk, a single bicycle meant for a young girl named Gwen (Ramona Marquez) gets passed over. When Arthur finds out about the bike, he implores an exhausted Santa to deliver the bike, but to no avail. Steve is too busy making sure everything else goes off without a hitch and doesn’t see the value in stopping everything just to deliver one little bike.
Arthur can’t sit by in good conscience knowing Gwen will have nothing under the tree, so he hatches a harebrained scheme to get the bike delivered. He needs the help of Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), a past Santa who has spent the last few years bitterly brooding over his uselessness. After Arthur gets Grandsanta on board, they find an old sleigh that has been decommissioned in favor of faster transportation. Together, they get Gwen’s bike and set out for her home in Cornwall to try and get it under the tree before Christmas morning. Though nothing goes off quite as planned, the adventure they take together teaches everyone else at the North Pole a valuable lesson about life and Christmas. Will this change things at the Pole, or will the march toward cold efficiency still win?
Children have read tales of Santa and his helper elves at the North Pole for years and have always just assumed that Santa had some sort of magic that made it possible for him to deliver toys to every child on earth in one night. “Arthur Christmas” breaks away from that by showing exactly how the sausage gets made every Christmas through Steve’s very precise duty doling. It’s a very inventive take on the classic story, one that screenwriters Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith seem to really revel in. Since Smith is also one of the directors of the film, she gets extra credit for helping to bring this very high-tech version of the North Pole to life. The real magic is in the fact that this modern vision of Santa can be brought to the screen without losing any of the warmth and holiday spirit that is often seen in holiday movies. It’s a nice balance that makes the film work and gives it an edge that many other Christmas films just don’t have.
Though “Arthur Christmas” isn’t a morality tale, it does manage to impart several little life lessons during its 97 minutes, not the least of which is that no child should be left behind at Christmas or any other time. It doesn’t sound preachy though, and it largely leaves these lessons open to interpretation by the audience. Some of the credit for this has to go to the actors, who do more character building in this film than most actors do in a live-action film. From Arthur to Grandsanta, all the characters are richly drawn and relatable in some way. A few even manage to steal the show, especially the hilarious Jensen as Bryony, who is a particular standout even though she only has a handful of scenes.
“Arthur Christmas” came out the same weekend as Jason Segel’s much-anticipated Muppets reboot movie, so it unfortunately got overshadowed at the box office. It deserves a second look though, because it has all of the offerings of a family holiday film with heart and laughs to spare. It is also one of those animated movies that appeals as much to adults as it does to children, if not more so. That isn’t an easy feat to pull off, but Smith and codirector Barry Cook manage to do it. “Arthur Christmas” is not the typical holiday movie, but that’s what makes it stand out and makes it worth a viewing or two.
Watch trailer here