Arthur Christmas (2011) Review

In today’s Internet-connected world, the age-threshold for still believing in Santa Claus is getting younger and younger as the Claus concept increasingly clashes with cold realities. Arthur Christmas, however, offers a fresh take on Santa Claus to help parents soften jaded young hearts through modern conventions for a high-tech audience. Most importantly, Arthur Christmas also reminds audiences of all ages that seeing the enjoyment of someone unwrapping the gift you gave them makes everything you went through to get it to them worthwhile.

Every child who believes in Santa Claus has wondered how exactly he delivers presents to all the children in the world in one night. It’s simple, really; he flies around at unbelievable speeds in a giant, advanced aircraft that houses a crack team of special ops delivery elves who sneak into homes, dropping off gifts and filling stockings with Christmas candy while families sleep. See? Simple. The Santa Claus operation is a well-oiled machine run by the Christmas family, including the current Santa (Jim Broadbent), his father and previous Santa referred to as Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), Santa’s wife (Imelda Staunton), the oldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), and Arthur (James McAvoy). As the next in line to be Santa, Steve runs the show while Arthur, who is awkward and clumsy, is relegated to answering mail sent to Santa. Nevertheless, Arthur takes his role very seriously and does his best to assure any doubtful children that Santa Claus does exist. So when one child’s gift is mistakenly undelivered after the initial operation is completed, Arthur considers it a personal responsibility to see the gift gets to its rightful child. With the help of Grandsanta and an enterprising elf with amazing gift-wrapping skills (Ashley Jensen), Arthur embarks on a frantic race against time to complete his mission before Christmas morning.

Arthur Christmas is a fully realized concept from the clever logistics that go into Christmas Eve deliveries to the wonderful character design of the Christmas family. Having the Santa team float around the planet in a giant craft whose belly displays the night sky is simply smart. Audiences will grin, watching elves dressed in infiltration gear rappel into homes and sneak into kids’ rooms while avoiding noisy toys that might as well be IEDs. On the character side of things, the Christmases are like any other dysfunctional family full of quirky dynamics and irritating and endearing personal traits. Grandsanta is the forgotten relic that seeks relevancy again. Santa is a somewhat useless figurehead who can’t let go of his position for fear of losing his identity. Steve gets the job done, but lacks emotion. Finally, Arthur is all emotion, but lacks skill. Audiences will clearly know who these men are and their motivations early on, so when they’re faced with a common problem – the undelivered toy – their reactions make sense in an organic and satisfying way.

This film is simple to understand and enjoy, making it ideal for families, but there’s so much detail on any given frame that viewers can revisit Arthur Christmas and find something new to smile at. Chyrons that display location typical to spy movies also offer extra novel statistics, like how many PlayStations a particular elf has delivered. The elves themselves also use an extensive array of gift-delivery gadgets, like naughty or nice scanners that dictate how much Christmas candy a child should get. The main characters also have cute, subtle details, like Steve’s manicured Christmas tree-shaped beard. It’s little touches like these that make Arthur Christmas such a joy to watch – more than once.

Beyond the visual presentation, the voicework is phenomenal and audiences will feel the actors’ performances whenever they speak. Moreover, the talent so completely transforms into their characters that they don’t sound anything like their real personas. James McAvoy’s squeaky Arthur and Hugh Laurie’s booming Steve are barely recognizable. Bill Nighy turns in his usual nonchalant wit while Jim Broadbent is as endearing and warm as ever. All told, the scheme of vocal performances is wide and inviting.

Arthur Christmas is definitely the film to watch with the entire family this holiday season. It’s easy to forget the spirit of giving when finding and buying the perfect gift has become such a chore. Thankfully, Arthur Christmas rekindles the magic of the gift-giving season with its heartwarming story about family, duty and the real joys to be found during the holidays. Don’t miss this movie!