***With the recent DVD release of Arthur Christmas (after a year!) here’s my original review***
There’s several Christmas films aimed at kids that never get old, the one I can think of off my top of my head is Elf. It’s always nice to find something new to add to that list, and it comes in this week’s film Arthur Christmas from Aardman Animation. Arthur Christmas is a witty film perfect for families and us regular movie goers, with characters that are endearing in many ways. It’s possibly the cutest Christmas movie to come out in a long time that wears its heart firmly on its sleeve.
Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) is Santa’s “puzzle” of a son who just can’t seem to do anything right. Despite his constant mistakes he excels at answering the millions of letters kids send to Santa every year. He makes them believe in the magic and wonder of Santa, telling them that Santa cares for each and every child. One Christmas Eve a child ends up “missed,” and it’s up to Arthur to get a bike all the way to England in a few hours or risk a child losing their faith in Santa.
Children’s films usually fall into two categories: PIXAR and everyone else. The crew of Aardman Animation fall more towards the former as their English sensibility and wittiness always make for delightful films. Flushed Away is still one of my favorite kid’s movie and a forgotten gem in animation. Anyone who can get my “Tom Jooones” reference is cool in my book! The script from Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith is fantastic and side-splitting, Smith herself even helms the film, score one for female directors! The jokes and humor hit all age brackets and are non-stop. I went with a 40-year-old and a 5-year-old who both found different jokes appealing. There’s typical polar bear humor, elf throwing, and one-liners like “It once was thought impossible to teach women to read.” You’ll want to come back and see the film to catch lines you missed from laughing so hard. The film isn’t dry or sarcastic like you’d assume from the Brits, it’s smart and doesn’t succumb to pratfalls or pop culture references.
I know Aardman Studios is praised for their stop-motion and claymation ala Wallace and Grommit, but they go CGI in this instance and it looks phenomenal. This is PIXAR quality here and the detail is astonishing. The hair on the reindeer is a definite highlight and all the elves are distinct in their personality and dress. It would have been easy to repeat patterns on the elves, especially in the group scenes, but the detail is different on each and everyone.
The film relies on themes of the magic of Christmas which you don’t see often in Christmas films. It’s usually acceptance and “giving,” in the form of material possessions or a clear conscience. Here it’s about identity and finding your place in the world. Every character searches for a purpose. It’s blatant in Arthur’s case but different for characters like Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), Arthur’s jerk brother. Steve could have been a villain but he’s trying to live up to Santa’s reputation. Santa himself (voiced by Jim Broadbent) refuses to retire because he doesn’t know who he’d be without Santa. Grand Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy) wants to show he’s still of use, heck even Mrs. Claus (voiced by Imelda Staunton) is trying to find a place in the world. It’s an interesting route to take and is far more grasping than typical Christmas movies.
The voice cast is also flawless with James McAvoy removing all that charisma from X-Men and making Arthur a loveable nerd. He’s almost like an awkward child in how he loves Christmas and the magic of the holiday. McAvoy’s voice has a warmth and kindness to it, not to mention he’s played that loveable nerd before. Hugh Laurie takes that abrasive House persona and applies it to the micromanaging Steve, a man who yearns to be Santa but has a problem connecting to kids. The true scene stealer is Bill Nighy who plays Grand Santa as a man who probably spends too much time drunk.
The flaws are minor with a film like this. My movie companions felt it was too long (it’s 97 minutes) which is easy to see as Arthur and his companions go through a few too many delays. It becomes repetitive at times to see them stop, have a problem, fix it and move on. I was able to overlook it but little ones might get antsy. We also saw this in 3D but didn’t notice anything special aside from depth which is seen in every 3D film by this point. I’d say it’s worth it to skip the 3D and go 2D.
Regardless, Arthur Christmas ranks up there with Elf as one of the best Christmas movies in the last ten years (I’m sure others will remind me of something I’ve forgotten). See it when it comes to theaters, see it at Christmas, and be sure to add it to your DVD collection!
Arthur Christmas will definitely be on my to-do list this holiday season and I will own it when it hits DVD. It’s funny, heartwarming and literally fun for all ages. The voice cast is perfect and I really want to go see it again to hear all of Grand Santa’s lines. Make it a must see right after the turkey!
**Arthur Christmas hits theaters November 23rd!
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.