Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
Opens locally Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voices of): James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton
Directed by Sarah Smith (feature film directorial debut)
"Arthur Christmas" is not in any way related to the Russell Brand/Dudley Moore "Arthur" films, nor does it star that loveable aardvark Arthur from the PBS animated series. "Arthur Christmas" introduces us to a brand new character, Arthur, who happens to be the youngest son of the current Santa.
I say "current Santa" because in the world of "Arthur Christmas," there is a logical explanation for everything, and since we all know that Santa couldn't possibly live for hundreds of years, we learn in this film that the title "Santa" is more of a mantle that is past down from generation to generation of male Clauses.
The film begins with a little girl writing a Christmas wish list to Santa Clause. She asks all of the plausible, unexplainable questions that a doubting youngster may ask: How do you deliver all of those presents? How do you fit down the chimney? How come your house at the North Pole doesn't show up on Google Earth? And if you travelling really fast, won't you risk bursting into flames?
The magic of "Arthur Christmas" comes in the clever explanations and updates to holiday staples that we are used to. Elves tinkering away at wooden toys? How ancient. We learn that today's North Pole operates like a well-oiled machine, carrying out the delivery of presents with the precision of a military strike. Hundreds of elves are deployed in hundreds of cities, to deliver presents. Sleeping children are scanned as if they were a bar-code, telling the elf the exact percentage of naughty or nice the child has been, and toys are given accordingly. From Mission Control back at the North Pole, hundreds of elves monitor hundreds of screens, having broken down every last statistic and reading in order to ensure that Christmas runs as smooth as ever. Gone is Santa's sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, a massive space craft with cloaking ability has taken it's place...it's just more efficient, really.
The current Santa is still present, but he is more of a figurehead these days, the face of the company. So out of touch with the Christmas spirit, giving thousands of gifts out to thousands of children, he is seen giving his own children a check for Christmas. His oldest son Steve is in line to be the next Santa...he is the militant CEO-wanna-be who runs Mission Control. Young Arthur is just a clutz, but who is filled with holiday spirit since his job consists of reading and responding to the thousands of letters sent by little children to Santa, detailing their wishes and hopes for Christmas morning.
But when a small glitch in the system leads a child giftless, Arthur takes it upon himself to deliver the gift to the small girl before she wakes up Christmas morning, which just so happens to be a few hours from now. With the help of Grand-Santa (the former Santa, now toothless and decrepit) and his wheezing old pet reindeer, they dust off the original Santa sleigh and ride off to save Christmas.
There are great themes and characters in "Arthur Christmas." Arthur himself is just your cliched clumsy hero, but Grand-Santa is quite a character. Through him, we hear of a version of Christmas that we all know and remember. The spirit of giving, and the human element that is at the heart of the holidays. If there really was a North Pole, and a Santa, it's sad to think that the corporate version depicted in the film would probably be the reality.
After the clever opening however, the film gets thrown off-course much like Arthur does. There are surpisingly few laughs, and even at 97 minutes it seemed to go on a bit too long.
You could predict where the story was going and where it would end, and outside of the innovative spin on modern-day Christmas, it was kind of a tragically dull ho-ho-hum adventure. Still, there was enough Christmas heart and magic in the characters and what the film was saying to make this an enjoyable, if not too memorable holiday romp. No explanation is given as to why the Clause family puts on Christmas each year for the entire world, which in and of itself is an example of the giving nature of Christmas.
If the Grinch were to steal Christmas in Arthur's world, he would have set off several alarms, been caught on security camera, and would have been thrown in a brig aboard Santa's spacecraft long before growing a heart.
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