Arthur and Grandsanta.
Arthur Christmas takes the elements of the traditional Christmas story of Santa Claus and turns it on it's head, with a science fiction twist. It pays homage to the tried and true Night Before Christmas tale while updating it to a world of technology not usually associated with jolly old St Nick. With a very British sense of humor, Arthur Christmas contains some slightly dark moments that skewer the legend of Santa Claus.
Other than the mailing of a letter to Santa Claus, by a little girl asking for a bicycle, the entire film takes place on Christmas Eve. The current Santa Claus is a descendent of many generations of Claus gift givers. His father is still alive living with him, Mrs Claus and their two sons, Steve and Arthur.
Times have changed. Santa now travels in a huge ship called the "S1. " It is larger than an entire country village. It is manned by an army of elves who descend onto the town and place gifts under trees. Santa himself only places one present under one tree in each town as an act of ceremony. Santa is portrayed here as a moronic boob. He does and knows very little.
The "S1" is directed, with military precision, by command central, located at the North Pole. It is a vast complex also manned by elves and run by Steve, who wants to be the next Santa. Meanwhile, Arthur is more interested in the human side of Christmas. He works in the letters to Santa department. He is touched by the children's requests for presents.
A problem arises when the "S1" returns from delivering presents in the early morning hours and it is discovered that a present was mistakenly not delivered. Santa and Steve act indifferent to one single present being lost. Hey, they delivered a billion presents. How could one really matter? Arthur cannot live with the idea that a child will wake up and find that Santa forgot her.
Arthur teams up with his grandpa, Grandsanta and go old school. They hitch up the old sleigh and reindeer. With a stowaway elf, from wrapping, "There's always time for a bow." they set out with the intention of delivering the bicycle before sunrise. Grandsanta gets them lost. They end up traveling all over the world, losing reindeer at every turn.
Arthur Christmas has it's heart in the right place. Arthur is the moral compass that all around him must learn to steer by. His dad is merely going through the motions of Christmas. His brother Steve is just working to get the Santa promotion. Even Grandsanta is just after one last hurrah in the sleigh. Arthur knows what the holiday means to children and is the only one left with the giving spirit of Christmas.
There are plenty of jokes here, and if you enjoy the British sense of humor, you will like it all the more. Not every joke works, such as the stop over on the Serengeti. It was a bit disheartening to see Santa Claus's lazy approach to gift delivery. The most shocking moment comes when Santa's sleigh gets blown up. As long as you are not bothered by Arthur Christmas rewriting the Santa Claus legend, you will find a movie worth spending the Holidays with.
Ashley Jensen provides the voice of Bryony, the gift wrapping operative, in Arthur Christmas.
I wouldn't say Arthur Christmas turns the Santa Claus legend on its head as much as I would say that it drags the trappings of the legend into the 21st century and then shows that at its heart Christmas hasn't really changed all that much after all. It's a delightfully funny Christmas tale with plenty of jokes for young and old alike.
The film was produced by Aardman animation, the company behind Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, and Pirates! Band of Misfits. Unlike those other films, this one is more "traditionally" animated. It's rather ironic that Aardman chose to not make this movie stop motion animation because the humor and the way the script slightly tweaks an existing holiday tale reminded me a little of those old Rankin/Bass holiday television specials. If they'd made it stop motion as those specials did, the resemblance would have been even more marked. In any case, the animation is nicely done and distinctly festive, especially in HD clarity.
Bill Nighy gets many of the film's funniest lines as the decidedly old school Grandsanta. His tales of hardship from Christmas's past get more exaggerated as the film goes on, such as, 'Christmas 1923, I had a heart attack at the reigns. Left ventricle popped out my mouth, pushed it back down and carried on." and "The last time I took Eve [the sleigh] out on a spin. I didn't know it was the Cuban missile crisis. I nearly started world war 3!"
The other scene stealer is Ashley Jensen as Bryony the gift wrapping elf. Her eternal optimism and ability to wrap anything with just three slaps of sticky tape (Three!!), brighten the movie. And the moments when Grandsanta and Bryony interact are the funniest moments of all, such as when Grandsanta tells her to wrap her head.
For a Christmas movie to become a perennial favorite, it needs more than just humor, it also needs heart. The message of this movie is rather commercial, but then isn't Christmas really? Although it's not just about getting a little girl a present, it's also about family.
Despite critical praise, Arthur Christmas wasn't a success at the box office. I suspect however that it will have a long life in digital format. It's just too damn entertaining to never find an audience.
Photos © Copyright Sony Pictures Animation (2011)