Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

DIRECTOR: Sarah Smith.

CAST: (Voices) James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Marc Wootton, Ramona Marquez, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin.

SYNOPSIS: Arthur (McAvoy) and his family live together, laugh together and bicker just like anyone else. The only difference is the responsibility that comes with the surname ‘Christmas’ and having to deliver presents to every country in the world, all in one night. Having fine-tuned a seemingly perfect strategy for the 25th December each year, when one child is missed, Arthur and Grandsanta (Nighy) embark on a crazy mission to deliver her present.

Arthur Christmas is one of those films you immediately want to see again once the credits start rolling. Assembling the Best of British, first time director Sarah Smith has created a smart, quirky, yet sentimental film that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and become a Christmas favourite, all the while remaining universally accessible.

Sharing writing duties with Smith, Peter Baynham provides some very clever, but harmless stereotypes and a lot of incredibly well developed and crazy characters. He also ensures that both boys and girls are catered for and that adults will find themselves laughing throughout – but you’d expect nothing less from the man behind Borat and Alan Partridge.

At the centre of our story is the titular Arthur, Santa’s (Broadbent) youngest son and absolute Christmas enthusiast. His place is in the mailing department, where he reads through all the letters delivered to his father and takes the time to write individual and personal responses to each, always working his hardest to ensure children keep their faith in the magic of Christmas. McAvoy is perfectly cast as the voice of Arthur, his English accent flawless and the fine line between excitable and annoying never once overstepped. He is completely wrapped up (sorry…) in the magic of Christmas and doesn’t want it to ever become a formulaic routine like it has with big brother, Steve (Laurie).

It’s a great deal of fun to see Laurie carrying on his streak of assertive and less bumbly characters, with Steve the complete opposite of the weedy little Arthur, and there are some brilliantly subtle touches worked in with his Christmas tree goatee and the Christmas trees on his red and green camouflage suit. Jim Broadbent is wonderfully befuddled and borderline clueless as Santa, with wife Margaret (Staunton) the epitome of a First Lady, letting absolutely nothing phase her. But it’s Ashley Jensen and Bill Nighy who stand out in this character heavy film, Jensen as the hilariously infectious Elf, Bryony, who believes anything can be solved with three pieces of sticky tape, and Nighy as the somewhat irrepressible Grandsanta, who yearns for a return to the days when it was more about the reindeer than the computers.

With so many characters involved, Smith made a very beneficial decision in her choice not to include any subplots that could potentially take away from the beautiful central story, ensuring it remains focused on Christmas and the task in hand. A very fast film that is assisted by Harry Gregson-Williams’ magical score, it doesn’t give itself many chances to catch its breath. But there are a few moments that allow us time to learn more about Arthur and his family, being a great way to make us care and invest more in who we are watching.

With 3D being used rather liberally of late, it’s a refreshing change in how it isn’t used as a gimmick here, instead adding a phenomenal amount of depth to the scenes, especially within Mission Control where the chaos of Elf upon Elf upon Elf, intricate computer systems and floors upon floors of workstations is really emphasised. This contradicts the film’s central message of how the old way is the best way, but there is something so charming in the way Aardman’s purposefully rough around the edges characters are portrayed in 3D, especially the animals we meet in the latter part of the film. Talking of animals, keep your eyes peeled for some Aardman favourites within the film – but that’s all I’m saying.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out how Arthur Christmas will end, but there’s a lot of fun and excitement to be had on the journey there. One of the most human and tangible animations in a while, the characters do not grate, with Arthur having real heart and courage against such huge odds. The idea of Christmas is never ruined for children, only heightened, and parents needn’t worry as the intricate set pieces explain down to a tee exactly how all those presents appear by Christmas morning. An incredibly stunning and impressive film, once it gets to Bill Nighy’s brilliant version of Make Someone Happy at the end, you will be feeling impossibly festive. Leaving children and adults no opportunity to get bored, Arthur Christmas is highly inventive and nothing short of truly magical.

VERDICT: 4/5

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2 responses to “Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

  1. Good review, I honestly had no intention of seeing Arthur Christmas but after reading your article I may reconsider. It felt like the TV spots weren’t given enough time in the States, and they were so fast I was unable to gather what the story was about. Thanks for explaining what the plot is about, also great to hear it has a good score, I look forward to hearing that. Great article! -Devin (@ProbWithMovies)

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