As much as I love watching my annual onslaught of horror movies every October, even more so do I love my Christmas season movies. The standards are obvious (White Christmas, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Scrooged). But I also love the not so standards (Gremlins, the first two Die Hards, Lethal Weapon). Probably my all time favorite Christmas film would have to be Love Actually. Sadly, the last decade has been pretty shoddy with Hollywood’s treatment of the genre. Now it appears like Aardman Animation is attempting to save the day with Arthur Christmas.
Last year we received the surprise Finnish present, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, but aside from that, our very own Hollywood has been treating us for years with worthless entries. Ranging from Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Four Christmases, Fred Claus, Deck the Halls, The Santa Clause 3, Surviving Christmas, Christmas with the Kranks, and The Polar Express, it seems as if studio execs have had it in for the holiday – the few exceptions being Bad Santa, Elf, and the aforementioned Love Actually.
Here, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) is one of Santa’s (voiced by Jim Broadbent) two sons. Arthur bides his time working in the letters department, answering letters addressed to dear old Santa Claus and making sure they believe his bowl full of jelly. Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie) happens to be Santa’s other son. He runs mission control for old Saint Nick. If you’ve ever wondered how Santa manages to deliver his gifts to all the children of the world, this movie may just take the cake in answering the age-old question. Having just returned from this year’s “mission,” aboard the S-1 (which looks an awful lot like the Starship Enterprise), Steve and Santa are certain that not one child has been missed.
Turns out that Gwen (voiced by Ramona Marquez), in Cornwall, England, has in fact been missed. All she wants is a new bike, found in its wrapping by a giftwrapping elf named Byrony (voiced by Ashley Jensen). While Steve convinces Santa that one child is a miniscule detail, Arthur is convinced that it could mean the end of everything they stand for. Now Arthur embarks on his own mission to deliver the bike himself because no child should be left behind. Along with his Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) and Byrony stowed away, they break out Grandsanta’s original 150-year-old sleigh, Evie, and they’re off on a series of hilarious misadventures, complete with having the entire world thinking we may be under alien attack.
First time director Sarah Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham (Borat, Big Train, I’m Alan Partridge) bring a wicked sensibility to the film and never forget that there are adults in the audience too. While the film may not be a gut busting good time, there’s still a whole lot of heart and holiday cheer. It would take the coldest of souls to not walk out of the theater in the holiday spirit. A black sense of humor runs through the proceedings and it’s all for the better as it will whiz right over the youngest of heads but give the rest of us just as much to be thankful for. While Aardman may be best known for their brilliant claymation Wallace & Gromit adventures, it was only a matter of time before they too jumped on the computer-animated bandwagon. If this is what they’re bringing to the table, then by all means, the more the merrier.
The only misstep happens to come from Sony Animation Studios themselves. And that just so happens to be the inexplicable inclusion of a ludicrous Justin Bieber music video for his slaying of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” which precedes the film. The video comes complete with Michael Jackson dance styling infusion. While Bieber’s take may be just about one of the worst renditions of a classic song ever, at least the film itself more than makes up for the travesty inflicted upon us an unsuspecting audience. If you show up three minutes late to Arthur Christmas you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.
Photos courtesy Sony Pictures Animation