Arthur Christmas comes to us courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman, the latter of which is best known for Wallace and Gromit. This doesn’t have the rough-and-ready aesthetic of what they’re known for what with it being computer animation as opposed to “claymation” (similar to their 2006 effort Flushed Away). But what it lacks in an odd real world feel it makes up for with an abundance of slickly packaged charm mostly due to its distinctive, well written characters and dialogue filled with genuinely clever gags as well as the slapstick and over-the-top set-pieces you’d expect.
The story is that Santa delivering presents to every child in the world in one night is actually a strict business operation run by a legion of elves and key members of Santa’s family, namely his son Steve (Hugh Laurie), with Santa himself really just being the face of it all. The trouble is despite the seemingly impeccably run operation, a single child has accidentally been missed and won’t receive a present when the sun rises on Christmas morning. Step in Santa’s other son Arthur (James McAvoy) who takes it upon himself to deliver the missed little girl her present with the aid of the experienced – read: very old – Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and enthusiastic elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen).
Okay so it’s not the most imaginative or original plot in the world but it’s a solid one nonetheless. The great thing is we actually care about the story as it goes on, actually wishing that the little girl will indeed get her present. Often in these types of movies the story is inconsequential and is really just a holder for cheap gags but Arthur Christmas, through sheer strength of conviction, convinces and totally works.
In a sea of animated kids movies, Christmas-related or otherwise, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Pixar is rightly held high as the pinnacle of modern animated filmmaking and while Arthur Christmas doesn’t quite reach that level, it does deliver its own brand of likability that makes it more than just your average-Joe animated adventure. The gags are plentiful; many will go over the kids’ heads but the adults in the audience will be glad for them. This isn’t one of those kids’ movies where the parents will be looking at their watches every five minutes dying for it to be over and dreading that down the line they will have to suffer it at home over and over. There really is something for audiences of all ages to enjoy.
Bringing the characters to life is some wonderful voice acting talent including James McAvoy as Arthur (you’d never guess he was Scottish from hearing his voice here), Jim Broadbent as Santa himself, Hugh Laurie as Arthur’s efficient and constantly annoyed brother Steve, and Bill Nighy, who is particularly good stealing the show as Grandsanta, delivering many of the best one-liners (“They used to say it was impossible to teach women to read!”). Each of the voice performances is distinctive but at the same time not showy – they fit the characters perfectly.
If there’s anything majorly wrong with Arthur Christmas it’s that it doesn’t do much that you’re not expecting. It plays it very safe inside the box and is pretty predictable as far as the plot and character beats that it’s going to hit. However, when there’s this much genuine joy oozing out of every scene I don’t think you’ll notice that the plot isn’t exactly reinventing the act of gift-giving. This is unashamed family adventure with a big dose of heart, wit and charm.