James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent
In 2011, Santa accomplishes his gargantuan, present giving task with a million elvish helpers, a camouflaged spaceship and the administrative skills of his eldest son, Steve. But when a single child is missed in the otherwise meticulous operation, it falls to Arthur Christmas to ensure that the magic of the night isn’t spoiled forever.
Arthur Christmas comes to us from Aardman Animation – the stop motion loving genius’ behind the likes of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. As with 2006’s Flushed Away, the company has chosen to use CG for their latest endeavour, with production principally carried out in their Culver City studios in California.
The set up is cleverly done, with a child’s voice asking the questions many have posed over the years – just how does Santa do it? A witty and hyper active opening action salvo answers all our questions, vividly showcasing the mass invasion of a town by thousands of highly trained elves aided by state of the art, military grade technology.
But even here the film lacks the verve you might expect – the set pieces are executed with irritating shaky cam and the blocking feels rudimentary while the graphics seem basic next to the current crop of CG titles.
This lack of vitality infests every aspect of the film as the story progresses. You want to like the character of Arthur for example but there’s no denying that he’s genuinely annoying. There’s an anthropomorphic reindeer waiting to capture the hearts of the audience but he’s never given enough screen time and a hundred thousand elves who lack any definable characteristics.
Perhaps the biggest misstep of all is the character of Santa, an ignorant old man with no sense of joy in his life and who treats his children with utter disdain. That’s right, Aardman have made a Christmas movie which makes Santa seem horrible!
The film takes great pains to let us know that only Arthur sees the magic of Christmas, that technology and time have robbed the other characters of their ability to enjoy those festive feelings. But it also makes the fatal mistake of not working to instil any of these emotions in the audience. Where’s the sense of wonder? The time spent lingering on famous symbols of the season, on family and friends, carols and cake – the important things. Instead we get swept up in a clamour of conflicting, often selfish, motivations – all focused on the fairly inconsequential act of giving a bike to some kid. Forgive me but where the love people?!
James McAvoy is miscast as Arthur, all breathy exclamations without a hint of emotion. Jim Broadbent is a dull Santa, Hugh Laurie gets a thankless role as Steve while only Imelda Staunton seemed to remember she was in a well-meaning kids movie. Bill Nighy at least gets some off colour laughs which reminds you this is an Aardman production.
I want to like Arthur Christmas but it goes one clever idea too far, getting bogged down in the technicalities rather than focussing on entertaining its audience. Add in some strangely basic visuals, dull performances and few enough laughs and it’s hard to imagine this becoming a future Christmas classic for the family to enjoy. Available in 3D but it was screened for us without the extra dimension.