It’s always tricky to critique a Christmas film. All of them have the right intentions in mind yet just like any other genre, there can be lackluster efforts.
Arthur Christmas provides a cozy holiday atmosphere with a slight tweak to the fundamental Christmas tale. But let’s just say this is mechanically speaking, a slippery 97 minute ride.
We begin in the North Pole, where Christmas headquarters is fully operational on Christmas Eve. The current Santa Claus (voiced by Jim Broadbent), a descendant of the original Santa, St. Nicholas, is on his last mission before he passes over the title to his tactical modernized son, Steve (rigidly voiced by Hugh Laurie). Unlike the Santa’s before him, Steve takes a more military-like approach to the Christmas delivery operation, as the famed sled has now been replaced by a hi-tech craft; ensuring timely delivery of presents to all the kids in all parts of the world (he keeps the stats on his iPhone to prove it). Steve takes an arrogant pride in his successful work since being at the helm of mission control, and looks forward to becoming the next Santa.
As the highly trained and agile elves do most of the heavy lifting these days, Santa is more of a figure-head and just coasts along for ceremonial purposes. But when one a small glitch is Steve’s infallible system leaves a kid in England without a present, Santa’s other son, the clumsy Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) – who is resigned to answering Santa’s fan mail – insists on fixing the error and getting that one last present to its rightful owner before the sun rises on Christmas day.
To do this, he needs an assist from his 136 year-old Grandsanta (energetically voiced by Bill Nighy), who believes the old-school way is the only way. Even though he’s a little off-his-rocker, Grandsanta takes Arthur to a secret room where the iconic sled and reindeer have been lying dominant for years. And just like that, they’re off; despite Steve and Santa thinking they had a successful mission and urging them to not go, for they believe it’s too late.
Well it’s definitely an adventure and the animation is fairly crisp albeit not all that creative. All the storytelling criteria that make-up the classic Santa Claus lore are on display and fit in nicely with the modernized take at how Christmas is handled in 2011. Once the adventure begins using the old-school sleigh, reindeer, magic dust, and a young stowaway elf (voiced by Ashley Jensen) that has a pension for making sure every gift is wrapped to perfection, the script travels all over the world in the race to beat the clock (always popping up in spy-movie fashion). All of this is fun to look at in this fast-paced journey. Issue that arises is the dialogue is moving faster than the elements on screen. Following the conversation can be as much as a chore as trying to keep up with a giant Italian family at the dinner table. Therefore, the punchlines and British-styled humor flies right by both the adults and the younger audience members. Basically, it’s show-n-go after the nicely placed opening act.
So although the middle-portion is where the excitement should lie, things are just hastily put together and there’s really no flow at this point. The entertainment & emotional levels are running on auto-pilot until the very last act; which saves the flick from disaster, as we finally receive some true Christmas spirit via the dialogue and character actions.
Initially this has a tone similar to 1985’s Santa Claus. While keeping with tradition, the story did explore the evolution of Christmas with respects to the time period. Same goes for this one, yet it never has a true goal or end-point that it is trying to convey (if any). And even with the tidy ending – and the “Where are they now?” montage – I have never seen so many characters remain incomplete in this type of holiday story. Perhaps the writers and director were trying too hard to put some edge on this.
Overall, Arthur Christmas is safe & secure for all audiences and does bring in that adventurous tone. The script and general concept is at times a scattered mess, and this animation was in desperate need for a smoother delivery and/or pacing. From a reaction perspective, this is the equivalent to opening one of the small presents that your briefly tear through as you furiously make your way toward the big one resting behind the tree. In other words, you’ll forget about this upon leaving the theater rather quickly. With that said, the closing sequences right this vibrant extended sleigh ride.
RATING: 3 out of 5