Generally speaking, Christmas movies are pretty lame. Often the cheer feels forced, the situation contrived, and above all there’s a nasty sense of commercialism associated with the narrative. That’s the first stumbling block that this film had to overcome for me.
The second matter is the fact that I don’t really approve of this Lie We Tell To Children, otherwise known as Father Christmas. Sure, it’s relatively harmless (and much better than the Lies We Tell To Adults), but for some reason the well-meaning myth/teaching has always sat uncomfortably in my mind, along with “stranger danger” and the rhythm method. Who knows what’ll happen when I have my own kids (the thought of my child knowing The Truth and potentially ruining it for others is just as bad), but until then, I’ll continue to be quiet and let people raise their own children as they see fit.
Neither of these things were a problem for me whilst I watched Arthur Christmas. This may be because a) the film never feels like it’s foisting a sickly-sweet sense of Christmas spirit on me, and b) because the depiction of Santa’s duties are both an act of genius and cause for hilarity.
I don’t want to spoil the cleverness of Arthur Christmas’ opening act, so I won’t go into detail. However, remember that email that got circulated some years ago, detailing a scientific analysis of Santa’s actions on Christmas Eve, and how, among other things, the reindeer would burn up on re-entry? Well this film tackles that concept head on. It shows us Father Christmas’ operation (something like NASA mission control to the power of 100) in the modern era, with all its technological advancements and a few million elves to help him. This is indicative of the film as a whole, which takes every premise to its logical conclusion, no matter how extreme.
The narrative itself concerns young Arthur (James McAvoy), the second son of the current Father Christmas (Jim Broadbent) – like ‘The Phantom’, there’s a long line of them, going all the way back to Saint Nicholas. Arthur absolutely ADORES his family trade, even if he’s more than a little inept and relegated to the letters department, rather than having any real input on that one night a year. When one child slips through the cracks of the Christmases’ high tech operation, however, Arthur gets a chance to truly shine.
Aardman have eschewed their usual stop-motion technique for CGI, and the film is quite pretty, even if the frame has a tendency to be a little cluttered at times. I saw the film in 2D (and why wouldn’t you?) and rest assured that the characters are nowhere near as ugly as the promotional material implied.
It’s a film that I’d be eager to re-watch, in fact, because there is so much going on. The jokes come thick and fast, and I was sure that I was missing a whole host of visual gags in an effort to keep up, particularly in the opening act. If there is any one criticism I could level at the film, it would be that the humorous dialogue is simply too tightly packed in there, but this type of approach served ‘Arrested Development’ so well that I figure it just means that repeat viewings will be rewarded.
The voice cast are all brilliant, and thankfully not too recognisable. Kudos has to go to Ashley Jensen however, who voices Bryony the elf, quite possibly the funniest character to grace the big screen all year. I could listen to audio clips of Bryony over and over without ever getting tired of them.
At 97 minutes, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome, and best of all it doesn’t resort to toilet humour and/or merely depicting CGI animals randomly singing well known pop songs (as many non-Pixar animated kids’ films are known to do). Arthur Christmas is an hilarious film that never becomes schmalzy or moralistic.Rating: