If you’re like myself and many parents out there, you’ll check out the NORAD Santa on Christmas Eve as a means to continue fooling your children over the existence of Santa Claus. Never mind that the website keeps running the same video footage year after year, right? It’s the magic of the process that counts. First and foremost, Arthur Christmas provides children with a detailed glimpse of what it takes to deliver gifts to 600 million children worldwide in one single graveyard shift. As expected, the job is an intricate one involving legions of elves and, oddly enough, a stealthy, UFO-like ship that renders NORAD completely useless. Still, the movie does plenty to reinforce the old-school idea of Santa by at least partially bringing that incarnation back, so to speak. In a subversively charming way, this movie will win over nearly any reluctant viewer. Unfortunately, a very vague promotional campaign hasn’t done much to pull audiences into the theater in the first place.
The pic is lovingly crafted by Aardman Animation (Wallace and Gromit), who has momentarily abandoned its usual stop-motion/claymation techniques for a more visually conventional appearance. The final product looks just as good as any Pixar or DreamWorks movie. The story is also far more sophisticated than one has come to expect from most children’s movies, and its holiday theme is gracefully handled so as to not spoil Christmas legends but still has plenty of fun tweaking the preexisting myths just a bit. Humor, too, exists on many layered levels, which isn’t necessary by any means for a film geared towards kiddies, but the good news here is that it won’t drive parents insane after repeated DVD plays. Those who appreciate all things British will be most susceptible to this movie’s charms, but anyone who gets pulled along for the ride won’t be disappointed either.
Here’s the lowdown: The current reigning Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) is enjoying his last run on the annual route before preparing to hand over the reigns to eldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie), who fits right in with the corporate, materialistic North Pole vibe by having an Armani uniform waiting in the wings for ascension into his new role. Once this year’s duties are finished, it turns out that one toy was left behind at the North Pole, so a little girl named Gwen (Ramona Marquez) won’t be getting the precious pink bike that she so very wanted for Christmas. Naturally, Steve dismisses this margin of error as an occupational hazard, and Santa acquiesces (it is, after all, his last tour) and heads for a long winter’s nap with Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton). Only younger son Arthur (James McAvoy), the Fredo of the family who has been relegated to the unwanted task of answering letters to the North Pole, truly understands the meaning of the season and fully comprehends what a tragedy it would be for any deserving child to be left behind on Santa’s route.
Actually, Arthur isn’t truly alone in this dilemma. He finds an ally in Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), who has made no secret of his distaste for the new, GPS-run system of delivering gifts and pulls out the old-fashioned sleigh (complete with reindeer) from storage. Together with an eager gift-wrapping elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen), he and Arthur set off on a nearly impossible mission to deliver Gwen’s gift in under two hours. The resulting adventure is not unlike that of How to Train Your Dragon, which was also perfectly wonderful without the 3-D, so do skip that extra surcharge for Arthur Christmas as well.
In the end, Arthur Christmas is charming in a very British way (much of the credit goes to the voice cast) and perhaps bit too sophisticated for young tots to fully appreciate all nuances, but the action of the most important package delivery of all will keep them sated enough. Further, the spectacle by which the North Pole’s organizational assembly line operates will remind viewers of both Monsters, Inc and, more recently, Hop. Fortunately, Arthur Christmas is far less obnoxious than the latter, and that’s the best recommendation one can ask for in a children’s holiday movie.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.