We often refer to the family of Santa Claus and Mrs Claus when talking to children about Christmas festivities. But what if there was more than that, like an overly excited but inept son? And a career-driven heir apparent who treats kids like units on a spreadsheet? Or a curmudgeonly old grandparent who can’t stop harping on about doing the job with nothing but the old-school ways? Arthur Christmas is a tale from the much-beloved animation studio Aardman, available now on Netflix.
In the world of Arthur Christmas, the festive season is a slickly performed operation with Malcolm “Santa” Claus (Jim Broadbent) still technically in charge but only as a figurehead for son Steven’s (Hugh Laurie) military-style high-tech present delivery method.
Christmas Eve gets complicated when Arthur (James McAvoy) – the youngest son whose genuine love for the meaning of Christmas is overshadowed by his utter ineptitude – notes that a present has been missed. With Steve and Malcolm willing to chalk it up to an acceptable loss statistic, it is up to Arthur and Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to deliver the gift, the old way.
It must be said that ‘techno autocracy’ isn’t a phrase you would immediately associate with Christmas, but there are easily recognisable tropes in the characterization that makes for immediate fun. Arthur himself often leans a little too strong on the ‘grating’ side of enthusiasm for adult viewers, but certainly not for any little ones watching. Similarly, the smirk worthy pithiness of some of the humour is unlikely to be appreciated by the age range the movie is mostly geared towards. But they can certainly get behind ‘grumpy grandpa’, ‘bossy brother’, and ‘well-meaning Christmas lover’.
Originally released back in 2011 as collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation, Arthur Christmas sees Aardman in rare CGI animation mode rather than the stop motion they are best known for, but their visual flair is still very much on screen here. There are tons of gorgeous or amusing details in the background to enjoy, and Steve Claus’ ultra high tech sleigh (the ‘S1’) wouldn’t be out of place in a yuletide Star Wars entry. Arthur and Grandsanta’s ill-fated trip sees them (quite literally) crash through many a delightful location. And dotted throughout the movie are a whole horde of super keen but highly strung elves for whom Christmas is a way of life.
It is clear that Arthur Christmas marks a conscious decision to appeal to a younger demographic. The downside to this means for the whole family there are parts that niggle on the nerves at times (Just what kind of voice are you shooting for there, McAvoy? Teenager going through puberty?!) but it’s still a fun delight that doesn’t overdose on the saccharine hits.
Words by Michael Record