Santa’s getting old. After 70 deliveries, he’s the figurehead of what is now a large package-delivering corporation, run (in-part) by his two children, Steve (voiced perfectly by House M.D. Hugh Laurie) and Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy of Mr. Tumnus and Professor X fame). Steve runs the North Pole as a military command center, with thousands of commando elves at his disposal, the latest technology, and a goatee cut in the shape of a Christmas tree. While Steve is all-go no-quit, Arthur is a bit bumbling, afraid of heights, things that go fast, and buttons. He works in the Letters Division, reading all of the letters kids write to Santa—and answering every one.
In the incredibly shot opening sequence, all of the toys and presents are delivered on time, in perfect Mission Impossible fashion. Harnessed elves descend from a cloaked ship, delivering perfectly wrapped packages to an entire city in less than eight minutes. Elves drinking (not coffee) hot chocolate mounded with marshmallows chart and graph every movement with Google Earth-like precision. However, upon Arthur’s stumbling entrance into Command Central (and through a series of unpredictably small events) one toy is accidentally knocked over into a pile of old, discarded wrapping and missed.
That means one child won’t get a present. One child has been forgotten at Christmas.
Once the mistake has been found, Steve and Santa (Jim Broadbent) brush it off as just one present missed. There isn’t time to deliver it anyway. Arthur is stunned, and decides to take matters into his own hands. From there, it’s up to him, GrandSanta (Bill Nighy), and Scottish-burred elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) to deliver the last package to the child and keep the magic and wonder of Santa alive.
From the opening sequence to the credits, this movie is an absolute delight. I can’t say enough good things about it. From Aardman Studios (Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away), Arthur Christmas is sit up at the edge of your seat funny, from everything in the background you don’t catch the first time around (there’s a canister in GrandSanta’s reindeer stable marked “Chimney Lube”) to the ridiculously clever writing and over the top accents. There’s something about an elf in a kilt with a thick Scottish brogue that cracks me up every time.
The story is deep, the characters are layered, and the animation, like Pixar, doesn’t get in the way. At times you actually forget you’re watching animation, and the characters become absolutely real. Not only that, Aardman has a great sense of pacing and action, right down to the whip zooms and camera angles.
The only things I would say (and honestly, it’s only two) are two jokes that zipped right over the heads of the kids, but were pushing the envelope. One is from GrandSanta (whose lines made me laugh out loud throughout the entire movie) who lands in what he thinks is France—but is actually Africa. He starts speaking broken French with an English accent, and asks where the lingerie department is. The other is a Chihuahua, who Arthur encounters in a house. Arthur wears light-up moose slippers, and the Chihuahua latches on and does what every dog does to a guest’s leg if it wants to completely embarrass it’s owner. Arthur quips, “Wow, he likes my slippers even more than I do.”
Two over-the-head jokes in an otherwise perfect movie. This is a must-see in the theater. Two days later, my kids are still talking about how good it was—even my four year old, which is really saying something.