The Christmas movie has become a novelty in recent times, Aardman, that most quintessentially British of all institutions have added their contribution with Arthur Christmas. The titular Arthur is the youngest son of the 20th Santa Claus and the sole bastion of Christmas spirit. His older brother Steve has changed Christmas into a slickly ran operation which answers the question of how Santa delivers all those presents in one night with an operation of incredible military precision. With an army of elves and a space ship capable of speeds reaching thousands of miles an hour is SR-1. Despite the efficiency, one present was lost, one little girl won’t be getting a present from Santa. With Steve blasé about this in sight of his own success in the operation it is left up to Grand Santa and Arthur to save Christmas for Gwen.
The context that informs this is the varied interpretations of Christmas and the conflicts of passing on from one generation to the next. After the ‘mission’ has been completed in flamboyant and impressive fashion, Steve has made all the preparations to be made the 21st Santa Claus. Such a step is huge for the current Santa who is the last figurehead of the old Christmas values. The old-fashioned values that he has long since forgotten since Steve and his status as representative of the commercialisation of Christmas took firm hold of the holiday season.
Even with this context informing Arthur Christmas, the present is still forgotten. In rather predictable fashion, the same girl who writes and narrates the letter in the pre-title card scene is the same girl whose present is left. That isn’t such an issue when the girl in question is brilliantly inquisitive through a letter that questions whether Santa is real because she can’t see his house or workshop on Google Earth.
Of more problematic stock is the repetitive structure, when Arthur and Grand Santa set out to save the day, the plot regurgitates the same plot hook time and time again. If the duo went in the wrong direction once or twice, it might have retained some humour, unfortunately that isn’t the case; they do the same thing four or five times. Furthermore there is a plot point later on where the world’s governments confuse the sleigh and its shenanigans for aggressive alien activity, this could’ve been dropped completely and the film would be better for it.
It might not be an issue for international audiences, for us Brits though we love Aardman because of how they celebrate the British people’s love of the eccentrics. While it would be folly of me to say that the titular character voiced by James McAvoy isn’t eccentric, instead his sole character trait is the adulation of Christmas, he has nothing more to say or do.
The characters that surround Arthur provide the laughs; the honours belong to two characters in particular. Those people being the little girl whose present they are rushing to deliver, her letter is the best thing about the film. In this letter she questions whether Santa exists on the feasibility of delivering all these presents, she supposes that the speed that will make such an operation as delivering a present to every child would surely set Santa on fire.
The character who plays second fiddle to Arthur is Grand Santa, voiced brilliantly by Bill Nighy; every other word he says is a brilliantly acerbic or punchy. If one fails to hit the mark, there will be another due the next second. In regards to his role, it begs the question whether the film is rated a little low considering some of the things he has done to Elves in the past.
This brings me on to the voice acting; Bill Nighy shows just how talented an actor he is through his voice work sounding every bit as tainted as a 130 year old Santa would. James McAvoy is exuberant as Arthur in a performance that could voice anyone between 15 & 30. Jim Broadbent as Santa can do wrong in these eyes. Hugh Laurie doesn’t embody his role quite as well, his voice is too familiar to be anything other than illusion shattering, if he affected his voice in any way this wouldn’t be an issue.
As a spectacle for Christmas, there is nothing wrong with Sarah Smith’s first film with Aardman. It ticks all the boxes and it’s suitably heart-warming without being saccharine sweet. Beyond that, Arthur Christmas with its clunky script and ugly character design is a misfire. As an Aardman production it’s thoroughly underwhelming. Thankfully, there is much more going on here worthy of celebration for it to more worthy of screen time than the usual rubbish we see on TV in the Christmas period.