Like Shrek and Toy Story, Arthur Christmas succeeds, in part, because of its inventiveness and creative storytelling. Every year audiences are promised “new holiday classics” from Hollywood studios but rarely do the films deliver on those promises. Arthur Christmas may not automatically be placed among the holiday standards like A Charlie Brown Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which are watched every year, but it certainly deserves your attention at least once.
In the movie, the North Pole is not just where Santa and the elves live. Instead, it is a high-tech compound where toy construction and delivery are run with military precision. Though Santa (Jim Broadbent) is the figurehead of Christmas, his son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), is the one who runs the Christmas operation with the authority of General Patton. Santa’s other son, Arthur (James McAvoy), is, well, better suited to other endeavors like responding to Santa’s mail and staying out of everyone’s way.
When Arthur finds out that a little girl named Gwen (Ramona Marquez) did not have her gift delivered because of a glitch, he becomes determined to get her the present she deserves no matter what the cost. With the help of Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and a sickly reindeer, Arthur does everything he can to ensure Christmas is special for every little girl and boy in the whole world.
Director Sarah Smith and Aardman Animations have created a beautifully detailed world filled with far too many visual jokes to catch on first viewing. Most animated films of late that have employed 3D animation have done so for the box office boost and rarely utilize the technology to heighten the story’s impact. Aardman, though, uses 3D terrifically and makes real the magical world of Arthur Christmas. Whether at the North Pole or on a deserted island, the animation is magnificently meticulous and purposeful. Though the movie could be enjoyed in standard 2D format, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
McAvoy is hilarious as Arthur, the simple, happy and eager to please son who just can’t get anything right. Though he is known for more serious roles in films like Atonement and X-Men: First Class, McAvoy has a true gift for comedy and makes Arthur a great character with real depth. Laurie does a very good job as Steve, the over-stressed, underappreciated son who is sick of waiting for the day he will become Santa. The most entertaining performance, though, is Nighy as the crabby old Grandsanta who isn’t pleased with how “fancy” the Christmas process has become. It’s hard to imagine any other actor giving as enjoyable a performance as Nighy does here.
Arthur Christmas is exactly the kind of movie that should be enjoyed by the whole family around the holidays. With beautiful animation, a great story and terrific performances, it is definitely one of the most impressive and imaginative animated Christmas movies in recent years.
This film is rated PG and runs 97 minutes.