Hilarious, and Sometimes Touching
JLFM - wrote on 11/07/12
Some films are destined to be classics. And while Arthur Christmas is far from a masterpiece, it certainly feels like a movie that could quickly become a Christmas tradition among many families. It's funny, it's cute, it's warm. What more could you ask of a Christmas film?
Aardman presents a much more modern version of Santa Claus then what audiences are used to. A small army of elves are deposited into towns via the S-1; a giant spaceship of a sled that blends into the sky as to avoid suspicion. The elves, like spies break into people's houses to plant presents for all the nice children (and Santa is in charge of laying a single present under the tree of select houses).
As expected Christmas Eve goes without a hitch...until it's discovered an hour later that a child was missed. Arthur Christmas, one of Santa's two sons is determined to make sure that the gift reaches the missed child, yet Santa's other child, Steve insists that there's no way to get to child before morning. Grandsanta (the Santa preceding the current one) won't have it, and teams up with Arthur Christmas to deliver the present to the missing child on the old sled, which leads to catastrophic events.
The beginning of Arthur Christmas is quite brilliant. We see the elves at work delivering presents, and the Christmas family has great chemistry with each other. Still, after the first half-hour (incidentally, when the plot starts), Arthur Christmas loses some of it's genius. This is still an excellent film, though if the rest of the film was as immensely entertaining as the first half-hour, Arthur Christmas would've been a much better film.
Still, Arthur Christmas still stands as delightful entertainment. The characters here aren't exactly unique, but they are both developed and hilarious. The elves nearly steal the show with their quick witty lines and energetic screen presence.
And while Arthur Christmas can be wickedly funny, there are slow moments. Perhaps somewhat ironically, Arthur Christmas is less enchanting when it tries to be magical. These humorless bits provide pacing problems and also feel extremely dull when compared to the rest of the film.
Still, not all these serious bits are a bore. Parts of Arthur Christmas (specifically around the ending) are surprisingly touching. While it's unlikely to leave anyone in tears, Arthur Christmas boasts surprising emotional depth that's rarely seen in non-Pixar animated outings.
The animation is attractive, without being jaw-dropping. Though character designs are distinctly Aardman, and environments can be pretty, the quality of the animation isn't always consistent. It looks good, but not necessarily great.
Voice acting is extremely well done. James McAvoy provides a silly and clumsy voice for Arthur, while Jim Broadbent as Santa is performed to perfection. The two standouts, however, are Bill Nighy as Grandsanta and Ashley Jensen as Bryony. These two characters are the comedic highlights of the films, and they wouldn't have been the same without their voice actors.
The score by Harry Gregson-Williams is mildly disappointing. It's not quite Christmas-y enough, and it does little that's new or unique. The score's massive potential is mostly unrealized, and it lacks energy. At some points, it sounds like his scores for the Narnia films. Still, it's mostly pleasant, if generic work.
Arthur Christmas has a lot going for it. It's quite funny at times, and contains some surprisingly touching bits. Still, slow parts do occur, and the film never lives up to it's first half-hour. Flaws aside, Arthur Christmas is a delightful holiday treat that aims high and mostly hits it's target.