Genre: Festive Seasonal Family Animation.
Starring: (the voices of): James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Michael Palin, Jane Horrocks and Ramona Marquez.
Running Time: 97 mins approx,
Seen at: Didsbury.
On: Thursday, 22nd December, 2011.
As the Christmas holiday approaches, your local multiplex is offering a wealth of yuletide-themed movies, leaving us really spoilt for choice. They’re ranging from Martin Scorsese’s brilliant and magical Hugo, to the shamelessly product-placement-heavy New Year’s Eve, sporting a cast that includes just about every Hollywood A-Lister you can think of. There’s also a trio of animated treats for children, with Puss In Boots, Happy Feet Two, and, one much more Christmassy and traditional – Arthur Christmas.
It’s the latest feature from Aardman Animation, the studio behind lasting favourites Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Except, this time filmmakers have made the choice to move away from the ‘clay-mation’ technique with which they have become synonymous – instead opting for the route of using computer-generated imagery, as well as the currently popular tool of 3D.
This actually proves to be a wise decision, counting very much in the film’s favour. The animation is bold and facially-expressive, as well as some of the most inventive and original this year. Its 3D element is utilized in a refreshingly subtle way that serves the narrative extremely well, which in turn makes for an opportunity to marvel at its exquisite detail. The film answers the age-old question of how Santa delivers all those presents in one night. It tells the story of Santa’s son, Arthur, who is, Christmas personified. In charge of sorting the children’s letters to Santa, he lives somewhat in the shadow of the favourite son, the power-hungry, technologically minded Steve played by Hugh Laurie. But when one child’s present is misplaced, it’s up to Arthur to save Christmas!
The festive season in the zeitgeist of Arthur Christmas, is one lovingly gift-wrapped in technology. Santa’s sleigh isn’t actually a sleigh at all at first, instead being a giant red state-of-the-art spaceship – the S-1.
The opening sequence is a fantastically clever homage to the spy genre, which sees hoards of elves in secret-agent mode delivering presents to households James-Bond style. There are dozens of intelligent nods hidden away to the likes of Mission: Impossible, which see elves lowered in on wires. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll even see a toy of Shawn the Sheep towards the end.
The film boasts a terrific voice cast – Jim Broadbent is a joy as the big-hearted Santa, playing on his advancing years and a weakness for mince pies. Imelda Staunton is lovely as the dependable Mrs. Claus. But it’s the always-excellent Bill Nighy who completely steals the show as the 126-year-old scrabble-loving Grandsanta, complete with his false teeth that appear to keep leaping out the screen of their own accord – another great use of 3D! He keeps forgetting the names of the reindeer so just calls one Bambi instead, and can’t understand all this, as he mispronounces it – ‘techmology’.
The child who Arthur is racing to save, is voiced by Ramona Marquez, who manages to translate her adorable Outnumbered cuteness into the spirit of Gwen. An intelligent screenplay plays host to a flurry of relevant contemporary references. Gwen enquires in her letter to Santa: ‘How come I can’t see your house when I look on Google Earth?’.
The character with the least appeal is actually the protagonist. Arthur’s constant goody-two-shoes aims to please quickly become mildly irritating. But this is one minor trait that does nothing to detract from the film’s effervescent sense of joy. Funny, without being childlike and touching, without being overly sentimentalized, this is enormous fun, and the best animation of the year. It really is the most charming film.
Rating: * * * *