Despite an uninspired title, Arthur Christmas is one of the best – perhaps even the best – Christmas movie to be released in theaters in years.
Funny, intelligent and imaginative for both adults and kids, the animated film is a classic that should find a long shelf life for decades to come and is definitely one for the home video collection.
However, it’s important to note that Arthur Christmas so much more than a Christmas movie. It’s more fair to say that the film is the story of family dynamics involving several generations of members and how their issues play out against the backdrop of having to get one single forgotten present to a little girl before the sun comes up on Christmas morning. And these issues make for humor that is timeless, ageless and universal.
Arthur Christmas takes the premise that Santa Claus is a title that gets handed down from one generation to the next, much like the Royal Family or any sort of Dynasty for that matter. In this case, the current Santa, Malcolm Christmas – voiced by Jim Broadbent – has had the mantle for 70 years, inheriting it from Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) who is now 136 years old (with an equally old pet reindeer complete with a cone collar). Soon, Malcolm will have to hand it over to his eldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie).
And this is where the family dynamics – or rather, dysfunction – begin. Malcolm, a bit more bumbling now that he’s in his senior years, has essentially handed over the physical mission to the fit and athletic Steve, but refuses to give up the title and the glory.
Resentful that he doesn’t get any recognition, Steve nevertheless carries out the Christmas Eve ride around the world like an Army General with hundreds of elves as his soldiers. He’s got his iPad-like computer and commands a sleigh-type spaceship while the elves carry out the gift-giving, and stocking stuffing “missions” like covert operatives. Steve desperately hopes that dad will notice his hard work and finally bestow upon him the prestigious title. Steve even has his brand new Versace-designed Santa suit pressed and ready for when that day comes.
Meanwhile, Grandsanta is a feisty, angry old man who is upset that Steve has taken the delivery missions into the computer age. He longs for the simpler time when he, as a one-time Santa, used nothing but a sleigh and reindeer – no fancy GPS devices or headsets.
Then there is Steve’s younger brother Arthur (James McAvoy), a sweet, pimply-faced boy who is accident-prone and has been removed from every imaginable job in the North Pole due to his clumsiness. Eternally optimistic and in awe of the magic of Santa, Arthur now works answering letters on Santa’s behalf, urging children to continue to believe in him.
Ironically, his family doesn’t really believe in him and has no hopes for him to be successful in the family business.
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