Friday, December 23, 2011

Arthur Christmas - Naughty or Nice?

Aardman Animations, Ltd., is a highly respected animation studio known especially for their stop-motion work. Their most well-known IP has got to be Wallace & Gromit, having spawned a series of short films, a spin-off television series (surprisingly with it's own spin-off), and a theatrical movie released a few years back. Recently the company has entered the realm of computer animation, their first venture being Flushed Away in 2006, which I didn't like very well. Their latest film and the subject of this review, Arthur Christmas, is also made in computer generation, but is also a holiday film and a pretty decent one at that.

After a spectacularly awful Justin Bieber music video (explaining exactly why would turn this review into a rant), we are treated to a visual explanation as to how Santa Claus is able to traverse the entire world in a single night: elves travel down from a giant, high-tech, sleigh-shaped ship and do practically everything that Santa is known to do on Christmas night. They are led by the current Santa's son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), who keeps everything running efficiently to ensure everything goes off without a hitch. Meanwhile his brother, Arthur (James McAvoy), is tasked with answering every letter addressed to the man in the red suit, enthusiastically stating that he (Santa) will definitely be on his way. By the end of the mission, all seems well until it's discovered later that one child in England was accidentally skipped. Upon learning this, Arthur, who is always filled with Christmas spirit, sets on a mission himself to deliver the present with only two hours until morning.

What's interesting about this movie is the approach it takes to interpret how the legend of Santa Claus works. Here it's explained that the jolly Christmas icon has been around forever because it's a family by the last name Claus and every so often one of them retires to pass the torch unto a new Santa, treated more as a title than a name, which is actually pretty clever. The roles of the elves, especially the ones that perform in the field, are similar to how it's shown in Disney's Prep and Landing, but on a much grander scale, and there is also an acceptable explanation as to how reindeer can fly: magic dust.

The characters of this movie are interesting to watch, especially in the ways their personalities bounce off each other and how the family of Santas doesn't get along that well, particularly between the current Santa (Jim Broadbent); Steve, who is to be the next Santa; and Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), the previous Santa who brags about how he got things done without modern technology. One elf of note is Bryony (Ashley Jensen), who can wrap any gift very quickly with very minimal tape (and still have time for a bow). The family tension leads to some drama during the course of the movie, though some of Bryony and Grandsanta's dialogue provide a few laughs to prevent the movie from becoming too serious.

The animation of this movie is simply stunning, especially in terms of the hair on each character. Everything is very fluid and helps to display an array of body language that enhances the emotions each character feels. Comparing the animation to Flushed Away, since it was also done in CG, the look and fluidity are both greatly improved here, since they didn't try to make it appear to be stop-motion when it wasn't. The music, Bieber aside, really helps to set the atmosphere and tone of the story and make it feel even more like an enjoyable Christmas flick.

Arthur Christmas is a movie I would recommend, especially to fans of whatever Aardman puts out or anyone looking for a good Christmas story this holiday, since it hits all the right points. However, if you are not a fan of Justin Bieber, whose song sandwiches the story, this may scare you away from seeing it again right away. Regardless, it's definitely worth a look.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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