ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. Voiced by James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Ashley Jensen and Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack Laura Linney and Imelda Staunton. Directed by Sarah Smith. 90 minutes. Rated G.
We remember the Aardman Studios for their wonderful animation short films, especially those with Wallace and Gromit. More recently they have made feature films, Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. This time, they have been shrewder in picking their target audience, children, younger children who delight in Santa stories whether they believe in him or not. And the parents and grandparents who take the children along will enjoy Arthur Christmas as well. And it was filmed in 3D.
So, who is Arthur Christmas? He is the younger son of the current Santa Claus. As with the Australian-French co-production, Santa’s Apprentice (which has many similarities with this film), Santa’s job is only a temporary position (say, 70 years or so). However, the North Pole has been transformed into an extraordinarily well-equipped computer technology production (and wrapping) line (remember Elf and Fred Claus). It is all under the control of Santa’s older son, the imposing body-builder look-alike, Stephen. The film reminds us that the presents have to be delivered worldwide in a short space of time. The computer programming, with the help of a space-ship ultra-speed sleigh and a bevy of elves who deliver parcels, makes this a beyond-Pentagon success story.
But, the little girl who writes a letter to Santa at the opening of the film, through an unobserved glitch, does not receive her present. Potential disaster. Stephen doesn’t worry. The statistic doesn’t affect his success rate – and it is only one child. Santa is complacent and goes to bed. It is only the geeky Arthur (certainly no body-builder) who causes mayhem wherever he clumsily goes, who sets out to deliver the parcel, with the help of the grumpy and selfish Gransanta and some very old reindeers and a sleigh called Eve. Needless to say, they get lost and have all kinds of adventures, even being chased by lions in Africa straight out of The Lion King.
Plenty of activity to keep the young attentive. And an excellent voice cast to amuse everyone. James McAvoy (who is a little weedy-looking in real life) gets us on side for Arthur. Jim Broadbent yo-ho-hos to great effect as Santa (with Imelda Staunton as his practical wife, Margaret). Lots of fun is had with Stephen (and at his expense and comeuppance) since he is voiced characteristically by Hugh Laurie. Old Gransanta is Bill Nighy.
So, it’s a Santa story for the IT 21st century.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out November 24, 2011.