How does Santa Claus do it? How does he deliver millions of presents to millions of children all in one night? The sheer scale of the operation must be mammoth. Well, Arthur Christmas sets out to answer those questions and more with an engaging new take on the legacy of Father Christmas. The film grants the audience an insight into just how the Project Christmas operation is tackled, and thanks to an army of ninja-like elves, sci-fi technology and of course a bit of magic, every child gets a present on Christmas Eve.
As you'd expect, the film follows the Claus family on Christmas Eve. When we first meet Arthur, Santa's son played by McAvoy, he is a bumbling but hard-working letter reader who absolutely adores all things Christmas. His older brother Steve (Laurie) is orchestrating another Christmas night from the NASA style mission control. Whilst Santa (Broadbent) is out in the field with his army of elves in the gigantic S1, a camouflaged, sleigh-shaped vehicle. After another successful delivery mission Santa returns home to learn that due to an internal error one young girl, Gwen, has been missed and will wake up to find no present from Santa. So it's left up to Arthur to go on this mission with Grandsanta (Nighy) and a wrapping-obsessed elf called Bryony (Jensen) to deliver Gwen's present before Christmas morning.
The writing style and character of the film are refreshing in the animated genre. Plus it manages to achieve that rare skill of appealing to both young and old, which is key to a great family film. There are many laughs to be had from the many amusing elves to Grandsanta's moments of nostalgia to Steve Clauses' lack of emotion regarding 'the most wonderful time of the year'. This Xmas extravaganza's festive levels are on maximum but it never gets too soppy, a British sensibility remains. It even raises some interesting questions regarding technology overtaking tradition. The tone of the script is heavily influenced by co-writers Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith, previous collaborators with Armando Iannuci and Chris Morris. It's easy to see this comedic flavour in the script and it translates into a unique direction for a Christmas movie. It truly does have Aardman Animation's non-literal fingerprints all over it and contains many of their qualities. Mostly feeling like a lot of care has gone into the production just like their previous Wallace and Gromit work.
The voice cast is stellar with everyone singing from the same carol sheet. McAvoy is solid as the clumsy but loveable lead, Nighy is clearly relishing his role as the cantankerous Grandsanta and Laurie is amusing as the blunt and militaristic older brother in charge. The cast is filled out with big hitters such as Broadbent, Staunton and Jensen, who all shine, serving their characters well. Particularly Jensen as the relentless sidekick elf that just wants to wrap presents. The dynamics that develop between the Claus family are intriguing to watch especially as we learn more of the history surrounding the family.
It's a great family outing for the festive season and a film that is a real gift for the Christmas movie genre. It's a unique and original take where the runtime is not too long for the kids and the 3D is an excellent feature. I've still not been convinced by live action 3D but within the animated realm it's much more effective, especially for the action packed sleigh sequences. The one snag is that the film slumps before the final act but that is swiftly forgotten once the riveting and heartwarming finale gets into full swing. Many families have those favourite Christmas movies which get cracked out once a year and this could well be added to many people's collection.