‘Arthur Christmas" is the new satire from Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations that delves into the world of Santa Claus and how he manages to deliver all those presents in a single night. This isn't an entirely original premise. We've seen this scenario before in movies like "The Santa Clause" and the Emmy-winning Disney holiday special, "Prep & Landing." Even "Family Guy" had a hilarious Christmas episode last year about an overworked, dying Santa entrusting his sleigh and gifts to Stewie and Brian. While this idea has been rehashed time and time again, "Arthur Christmas" is still a well-executed take on the Santa Claus mythology with a unique wit and charm.
Rather than there just being a solitary Santa, the film explains that there have been generations of Santa Claus' working at the North Pole for eons. The current Santa is a kindly man who is getting a tad lazy in his old age, voiced by Jim Broadbent. Every Christmas he is accompanied by his army of elves that are so well trained and stealthy they can sneak into the White House without breaching security. If the U.S. Special Forces were half as skilled as these elves they could have tracked down Bin Laden in a day with enough time to assassinate Saddam and be home for tea.
Holding down the fort at Santa's command center is his oldest son, Steve, voiced by Hugh Laurie in his cynic mode. Then you have James McAvoy as Arthur, Santa's goodhearted son who loves Christmas more than life itself. Arthur's chances of ever filling his dad's boots are slim though, since he can be a tad too eccentric.
Christmas seems to have gone off without a hitch until an elf discovers an undelivered bicycle for a little girl named Gwen. Arthur makes it his duty to deliver the present with the aid of his Grandsanta, voiced by Bill Nighy.
"Arthur Christmas" is an excellent movie to observe, most notably the film's glorious set pieces. Santa has put his old sleigh, composed of wood and lead paint, out to pasture to make way for the sleigh of the 21st century. It's an enormous red mother ship that can shadow an entire small town and make the Starship Enterprise appear pitiful. His command center has the appearance of the most high-tech and advanced war room on the face of the earth, with countless elves at computers.
The screenplay by director Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham, who was one of the co-writers for "Borat," is humorous, too. Their writing encompasses the same clever drollness of previous Aardman productions, which include "Wallace & Gromit," "Flushed Away," and "Chicken Run." Some of the funniest dialog comes from Arthur's Grandsanta, who is fed up with the technological advances in the gift delivering game that now consists of space ships and iPhones.
He prefers the old-fashioned way, with a clunky sleigh and eight reindeer. Of course, Grandsanta's dated method resulted in an elf going missing during a flight and might have caused the Cubin Missile Crisis.
The filmmakers have also created a winning character in Bryony, an elf supplied with the thick Scottish accent of Ashley Jensen. Bryony joins Arthur and Grandsanta on their mission to act as their gift wrapper. She's so experienced in the art of wrapping that she can even wrap a bicycle as Arthur is riding it down a hill. No matter what the predicament, Bryony always makes time to slap a bow onto the final product.
"Arthur Christmas" is a jolly fun treat for ages young and old. My only question is why the protagonist is named Arthur Christmas. If he's the son of Santa shouldn't his name be Arthur Claus? I suppose the filmmakers didn't want audiences to potentially think this was a sequel to "Fred Claus" with Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti.