I think I have been on this planet long enough to understand the idea behind Christmas, it is a season of goodwill, when people put aside their differences and celebrate what is good about the world. This is a season that is powerful enough to halt a World War. Basically it is about spreading joy and cheer. There are a million Christmas themed films out there and whilst some, such as Elf, fall rather flat with me, there is one film that I think is a true Christmas joy...that film is Arthur Christmas.
The film was released in 2011 and produced by Aardman Animations (you know the guys behind Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit). It features an all star cast of talented actors including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy.
So as the film begins t'was the night before Christmas...and hundreds of elves are busy on board Santa's mile-wide, ultra high-tech sleigh S-1. The current Santa, Malcolm Clause (Broadbent) is overseeing the delivery of a present to every child in the world whilst the operation is micromanaged by Malcolm's son (and next in-line for the job of Santa) Steve (Laurie) from their base in the North Pole. During the operation a child wakes up in Poland, nearly discovering Santa and the elves, during a few tense moments a toy is knocked off the conveyor belt on S-1 but no one notices. The child doesn't discover Malcolm and the operation resumes. With every toy seemingly delivered successfully Santa returns to the North Pole.
Upon his return he is greeted by Steve, and his other son, the clumsy, nervous yet enthusiastic Arthur (McAvoy). Whilst Steve handles the important operations of present making and delivery, Arthur replies to each and every letter that a child sends to Santa. It is Malcolm's 70th mission, and everyone is expecting him to pass the torch to Steve, who will become the next Santa as Malcolm is now beyond his prime and serves as a figurehead more than anything else. He is still held in very high esteem and delivers his closing speech at the end of another successfully completed mission, looking forward to his 71st mission, much to Steve's frustration.
After the mission, during dinner Arthur suggests a family board game but it degenerates into an argument between Steve and Malcolm, with Malcolm's father and Grandsanta (Nighy), who is bored due to his own retirement, criticising both of them over modernisation of their operations. During the argument Steve gets a message on his PDA, and leaves the table. Arthur follows him and discovers that an elf named Bryony Shelfley (voiced by Ashley Jensen) has found the present that had fallen from the conveyor belt earlier in the evening.
Arthur immediately raises the issue with his father, who is at loss at what to do. Steve, meanwhile, argues that so one present got missed, considering they flawlessly delivered billions, one is not that big a deal. The present in question was for a young girl named Gwen living in a little village in England, and considering he replied to her letter asking for it, Arthur knows how heartbroken she will be is she doesn't get a present from Santa.
With Steve uninterested and Malcolm at a loss, Grandsanta suggests he and Arthur deliver the present themselves using Grandsanta's old wooden sleigh EVIE that will be pulled by the great-great-grandchildren of the original 8 reindeer.
Arthur reluctantly agrees and sets of with Grandsanta to deliver Gwen's present before the sun rises in the morning...
One of the things I instantly liked about this film was the fact that Santa is not one person, in some films it seems that Santa is an immortal that has existed for hundreds of years delivering presents to all the children of the world. In this film, Santa is just one member of a family of Clauses. As one retires, his son takes up the mantle becoming the new Santa until the time comes for him to retire, and pass the torch along. It is a great idea and demonstrates the spirit of Christmas, namely being with family and loved ones, during the holidays.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the technology employed by the Clause family, S-1 is a massive ship that is more than capable of flying silently around the Earth in a single night, and the army of elves working on board uses the skills of ninjas to get in and out of people's homes to deliver presents. Grandsanta hoping to prove himself to the family by using the delivery with EVIE also highlights how technology can quickly replace traditions, but that is not necessarily a good thing. I mean it is awesome having a ship that can zip around the world in record time (and trust me on this one, I know) but that doesn't mean that the old ways should be forgotten.
The voice cast I also cannot fault, each one suits their respective character down to the ground. I have often said to people that as far as I'm concerned there are some actors that voice a character and what you see is the actor sitting in a recording studio rather than the character themselves. Ryan Reynolds or Mel Gibson are two examples of this kind of actor. However, even though I am familiar with the main cast of Arthur Christmas with every one of them I see the character not the actor. Bill Nighy is a particular highlight as Grandsanta who used to do all his own deliveries and is now bored in his retirement so longs to get back out there delivering presents once again.
Naturally things don't go to plan for Arthur, Grandsanta, or Bryony who stowed away on board EVIE. The film never stops being funny and charming. The animation is flawless and beautiful to look at. You really believe that Santa has a massive town-size sleigh at his command. If you've read my Elf review (which of course you have because you are a loyal reader), then you'll know that I picked holes in it basically from beginning to end, and whilst I could ask how the Clause family manages to have technology a hundred years more advanced than anything anyone else in the world has, or how they afford to make all the presents, or how their fuel S-1...I don't want to. All I wanted to do was sit back and enjoy the film. That is how you can tell that a film has captivated you because all you want to do is see the film's heroes succeed in their task.
I cannot really think of an criticisms, even the best film will have things that don't make sense or various plot holes, but here there are none that I can think of. Since its release I have started my own Christmas tradition, on Christmas Eve I watch this film, it makes me smile every time and will continue to smile even after the human race who created it has been wiped from the face of this planet.
If you are one of those people that have been wasting your time with "classics" like Elf then I strongly recommend that you watch this film, because this is exactly what a Christmas film should be all about. This is the perfect Christmas film and one that can be enjoyed by the young, the old and everyone in between. It should come as no surprise that I am giving Arthur Christmas a strong Thumbs Up, you know what, as it is Christmas I am going to award my rare 2 Thumbs Up.
10/10 - The perfect Christmas film, funny, colourful, charming, well acted and magnificently animated...what more can I say but Merry Christmas