Arthur Christmas Review
Returning to CG animation five years after the under-rated Flushed Away – and with added 3D this time – Aardman have delivered an early festive treat in the shape of Arthur Christmas, essential viewing for anyone who wants to leave cinema with a warm and fuzzy feeling that will prevail even as the chilly days of winter set in. Packed full of charm and wit, expect every humbug to change into a ho ho ho as soon as the credits roll.
Reimagining the North Pole as an efficient business where Santa is merely the company figurehead, Arthur Christmas revolves around the current Santa’s youngest son Arthur (James McAvoy) who, filled to the brim with Christmas cheer, sets off on a mission with his grandfather Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and plucky gift wrapping elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) to deliver an errant present before dawn rises on Christmas Day.
It all starts with an impeccable sequence that sees one million elves, led by Santa and his eldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie), deliver presents across the world. Inventive and with a level of background blink-and-miss-em sight gags only matched by Pixar, it’s thrilling and funny in equal measure with a lovely dash of silliness on top. It’s quite simply impossible to resist and, in truth, the film does lose a touch of momentum when it wraps up and focus is shifted onto the main storyline. Thankfully it doesn’t take long to pick up once Arthur and Grandsanta set off on their adventure, taking in the likes of Canada and Africa along the way; the former’s sequence is likely to bring the biggest laughs out of American audiences for its light-hearted digs at its neighbour.
Whilst not the claymation we expect from Aardman, the film’s genial streak is Aardman through and through. That the climax is expected doesn’t matter, you become so invested in the characters that it cannot fail to move you and, crucially, is sentimental not schmaltzy; it’s a perfect balance of heart and humour. This is helped by strong voice performances from everyone involved with them all perfectly embodying their characters and making them well-rounded, from McAvoy’s wide-eyed innocence and excitement as Arthur to Nighy’s cranky, old-fashioned Grandsanta. Special mention has to go to Jim Broadbent though for producing a Santa we kind of wish we sat on the lap of as a youngster.
It all looks spectacular as well with a gorgeous sequence through the northern lights a particular standout, even if the 3D on the whole is so subtle that it truly won’t make a difference watching in 2D. It’s once you realise the scale of the film that it becomes CG was the only option if we wanted to see the film this century, with hundreds of elves frequently in shot during scenes back at HQ, not to mention the various locations that our trio find themselves in. It retains that Aardman look though in the characters with the only animated downfall coming from the rather jarring product placement of a Co-Op store during the climax.
Destined to become a perennial family festive favourite, Arthur Christmas marks an auspicious start for Aardman’s collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation. It may be chucklesome rather than hernia-inducing hilarious, but you’ll be hard pushed to care as its gentle affability charms you throughout, delivering a lovely, uplifting ending to move even the bitterest of hearts. It may be November and the weather far from frightful, but we guarantee it will make you want to unbox the tinsel as the minute you get home.