Kids and adults alike have always wondered how Santa delivers all of his presents in one night.
The newest holiday hit “Arthur Christmas” attempts to answer that question with enticing visuals backed up by great performances and a wacky but wonderful story.
It’s Christmas Eve, and the North Pole is running like clockwork. Santa (Jim Broadbent) flies around in his flashy new mega-sled, and his eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), leads the operation from the control room. But after Santa returns, he realizes that they forgot to deliver one child’s present. Santa’s younger son Arthur, (James McAvoy), Bryony the elf (Ashley Jensen) and Santa’s father and predecessor, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), decide to dust off the old sleigh to deliver the last present.
The voice acting in “Arthur Christmas” is strong, especially between the duo of Arthur and his Grandsanta. McAvoy shows his versatility when transitioning from a bumbling fool and a worry wart to a warm Christmas-lover delivering one last present. Nighly’s deep English voice is barely recognizable, but he steals the show with his entertaining interpretation of the crotchety old Santa proudly telling his stories about the “good old days.” Laurie, Jensen and Broadbent also deliver solid performances, but their characters never get involved in the story until the end of the film.
Screenwriters Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith craft funny dialogue for the characters, but also an imaginative story with deep themes about life and the meaning of Christmas. The dysfunctionality of the Claus family in “Arthur Christmas” makes for a more compelling story than the average family film fare. The characters adopt their own philosophies and techniques for handling Christmas, arguing frequently between themselves.
This conflict generates tension and estrangement for each character to overcome. Whether technological or traditional, the many interpretations of Santa allow the film to dive into its holiday message about coming together and spreading joy.
The story has a few inexplicable hiccups. The elves, for instance, use the go-to “self destruct button” in their fortress as an easy way to build tension. World leaders attempt to track Arthur and Grandsanta with a predator drone after confusing the sleigh for a real-life flying saucer. It’s a climactic moment, but the idea of the military involved in a Christmas story does not fit all too well in what is billed as a children’s movie.
The visuals throughout are sharp. Santa’s control center on the North Pole and his sleigh are magnificent in scale and design. Wide shots of such fantastical sets are reminiscent of Asgard from the blockbuster “Thor.” The 3-D stands out infrequently, but with vibrant color, especially with the magic dust — mined from the Aurora Borealis — trailing at the end of Santa’s original sleigh.
“Arthur Christmas” is a holiday joy on many levels. Its heartwarming tale, fully-realized imagination and impressive cast go beyond answering the simple question of how Santa does it all in one night.
“Arthur Christmas” was directed and written by Sarah Smith, and written by Peter Baynham.
3 out of 4 stars.