By Bill Wine
KYW Newwsradio 1060
So how does Santa deliver all those presents in just one night?
That abiding yuletide question gets a jolly, whimsical, memorable answer in the new animated attraction, Arthur Christmas.
But forget about reindeer and a sleigh. How about impossibly acrobatic elves and what looks like a humongous spaceship?
It’s a clash between digital impersonality and old-fashioned goodwill. That’s what we’ve come to in our high-tech and sometimes myopic modernness, according to this animated adventure that means to restore both mystique and mystery to Christmas without losing the merriment or magic.
Cheery and cheeky in about equal measure, Arthur Christmas is a computer-animated holiday tale about the legacy of Father Christmas and the domestic dynamics in the three-generation Claus family.
The title character, voiced by James McAvoy, is the younger son of the current, roly-poly, distracted Santa, played by Jim Broadbent. Arthur is a gangly, fearful lad who remains wildly enthusiastic as he dutifully devotes himself to answering all the letters mailed from children around the world to the North Pole.
His older brother, Steve, voice compliments of Hugh Laurie, oversees the worldwide delivery of billions of gifts on Christmas Eve from a high-tech command center at the North Pole, with an army of elves at the ready. It’s like a vast military undertaking, and coldly precise, by-the-book Steve — a control freak who’s certainly gunning to be the next Santa — has just the right presence to deliver those presents.
The massive Christmas Eve operation, delivered on an epic animated scale, is something to see and marvel at. But with all its pyrotechnical splendor, it’s a bit on the impersonal side.
That does not escape the notice of the brothers’ cranky grandfather, a long-retired Santa voiced by Bill Nighy, who watches with regret about what’s been lost in the transition to a state-of-the-art delivery system. He’d like to get his beloved reindeer out of mothballs.
Meanwhile, his reigning son is also reaching retirement age and will have to choose a successor.
But this year there’s a seemingly minor glitch in Steve’s supposedly foolproof assembly-line system: one little girl in a remote English village did not receive the bike she was due to get. Steve figures that that’s not a bad percentage, all things considered.
But true believer Arthur insists that this is a wrong that must be righted: no toy must be left behind.
Thus do Arthur and his dotty grandpa rouse the reindeer, take to the sleigh, try to forget Arthur’s till-now-debilitating fear of heights, and attempt to deliver this one last gift the old-fashioned way before the gift’s young recipient wakes up on Christmas morning.
First-time director Sarah Smith, who co-wrote the witty script with Peter Baynham, delivers a breathtakingly inventive and marvelously detailed attraction, packed with far too many visual gags and flourishes to pick up in one viewing, with a narrative that pits technology versus tradition (as well as convenience and competence against faith and kindness).
Look for this animated adventure from Aardmark Animation — who gave us Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Flushed Away — to join the regular rotation of holiday-season family flicks, and rightly so.
So we’ll hand-deliver 3 stars out of 4 for the clever and touching Arthur Christmas, a sparkling gift delivered a bit ahead of time that rekindles the Christmas spirit.