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"ARTHUR CHRISTMAS"
(2011) (voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Fantasy: When Santa Claus misses one child's house on Christmas Eve, Santa's youngest son takes it upon himself to deliver the present before sunrise.
PLOT:
Santa Claus (voice of JIM BROADBENT) is shown completing his 70th year as the white-bearded man who delivers toys to children around the globe on Christmas Eve. His son, Steve (voice of HUGH LAURIE), has completed automating the process running the operation from a high-tech North Pole command center and remote commanding Santa's massive airship staffed by thousands of elves.

Steve's ambition is to take over as Santa the next Christmas, but his father announces that he will continue on for at least another holiday. Meanwhile, Santa's other son, Arthur (voice of JAMES McAVOY), has discovered that Steve's 100-percent efficient system has missed one gift and they have two hours to get it to little Gwen (voice of RAMONA MARQUEZ) before she wakes up. But Steve doesn't want to risk taking the ship out for just one child and an exhausted Santa has already gone to bed with Mrs. Santa (voice of IMELDA STAUNTON) and doesn't want to be woken up until Dec. 26.

So, Arthur enlists the aid of Santa's elderly father, Grandsanta (voice of BILL NIGHY), who is overly eager to prove to his family that his old way of delivering presents in a sleigh with eight reindeer is still the best way. With a stowaway elf named Bryony (voice of ASHLEY JENSEN), the two get into all sorts of hijinks and misadventures on the way from the North Pole to Gwen's family home in England.

OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
I wasn't one of those kids who questioned the Claus. I knew better. I wanted my Death Star Space Station play set. I wanted my Millennium Falcon spaceship. I wanted my Atari 2600 video-game system along with games Pac-Man, Zaxxon, Frogger, and River Raid. I didn't care how the Man in Red got it to me. I didn't freak when the local government decided to add 1,000 townhomes as part of a massive, mixed-use development in the center of town. Somehow Santa and the elves would service them, too. I didn't even question how he was able to fit an entire air hockey table into his sleigh one year. I believed.

But there were certainly kids in the neighborhood and at school who, each year, had more and more questions. And they were good questions. How could Santa deliver ALL those toys in one night? How could he get all of the toys in his sleigh? How could the reindeer pull something that heavy? How was it that he was able to evade the missile defense systems of the former Soviet Union?

The new movie "Arthur Christmas" attempts to not only answer all of those questions (NATO fighter jets stand in for Commie sidewinders), it also attempts to explore the dynamics of Santa's dysfunctional family and deliver the usual holiday hokum about the true meaning of the holiday. Not the birth of Christ, of course, but the whole joy of giving thing. Those who know me know that I am sucker for this kind of thing. So, don't be surprised that I loved the film. Be surprised that I actually think it one of the top 10 Christmas movies I've EVER seen!

I loved this movie! First of all, it's probably the most cinematic Christmas movie ever made. Had this been a live-action film, it probably would have cost $150 million to produce. Animation allows the filmmakers to depict Santa's massive mission-control command center at the North Pole or his USS Enterprise-like airship equipped with a cloaking device and the latest Pentagon-heisted technology at a fraction of the cost. There is so much going on in the opening sequence where Santa and hundreds of elves are air-dropped into Denmark where they service all of Copenhagen in less than three minutes, you'll need to see the sequence at least several times to take in all of the detail.

Thankfully, after this early spectacle, the film settles down to tell the confined story of Santa's klutzy son, Arthur (voice of James McAvoy), learning that one present has been missed and there are only two hours to deliver it. Santa (voice of Jim Broadbent) wants only to retire to his chambers for a long winter's nap, and Arthur's brother, Steve (voice of Hugh Laurie), doesn't want to risk taking the ship out again for one single child. Steve, the brains behind automating the annual Christmas Eve mission, is willing to accept one mistake amid a billion successes in one night.

But not Arthur. He teams with the long-retired Grandsanta (voice of Bill Nighy), one committed elf named Bryony (voice of Ashley Jensen), and Grandsanta's elderly pet reindeer to dust off the original Santa sleigh, leash up eight reindeer, and take the gift to little Gwen in England himself. Hijinks ensue.

One of the things I loved about the film is it's quite a travelogue. And it depicts places on the big screen not usually seen in movies. In addition to Denmark, Arthur and Grandsanta have misadventures in Idaho, Toronto, Tanzania, and a small town in Mexico. The film is the product of Aardman Studios, makers of "Wallace and Gromit," so the humor at times is very British and very droll. Adults will probably laugh with the film more than kids. But the little ones are going to absolutely thrill to it.

OK, the story of "We Gotta Save Christmas!" is, of course, not a new one. It's the character work that stands out here. Grandsanta may be one of the funniest characters ever depicted in a holiday-themed movie. He's a guy who was Santa Claus for decades, completing 70 successful Christmas Eve runs before his grandson, Steve, automated the whole night and made Santa just a glorified figurehead. He wants to show the youngster that the old school way still works. As such, Grandsanta is a wonderfully ego-driven character and he punctuates every scene he is in with some of the most hilarious remembrances of Christmas Eves past when he would deliver around the world. One year during World War II, for instance, he recalls delivering over a million presents with just "six reindeer and a drunken elf."

Only Mrs. Claus (voice of Imelda Staunton) gets shafted here, staying too much in the background even though the screenwriters clearly intimate that she is the smartest of the whole Claus clan. Another minus is the fact that the film features an awful remake of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" by Justin Bieber. I haven't traditionally hated on the Bieber. I really don't care what the kids are listening to today. But this version made me want to flood my eardrums with nog.

Outside of that, if you are so inclined to be filled with the Christmas spirit, this one will do it. Made with heart and wit, "Arthur Christmas" is destined to be a perennial favorite of many. I rate it a very entertaining 8.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 19, 2011 / Posted November 23, 2011


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