The holiday season is an emotional rollercoaster for many reasons and ARTHUR CHRISTMAS does a neat job of exploring many of them while still being both heart-warming and wonderfully entertaining. More than entertaining, really, this flick from the Aardman Studio has all the makings of a Christmas classic that kids can grow up with and that adults can cherish from the get go. Family dysfunction about Santa Claus true mission becomes the perfect backdrop as the Santa family, like families everywhere, suffers through the difficult balancing act between the comfort of tradition and the efficiency of innovation. Theres the time-honored trope of the underdog turned unlikely hero, and a bevy of dedicated elves that take that time-honored trope into delightfully unlikely places.
The eponymous character (James McAvoy) is the younger, less organized son of the current Santa (Jim Broadbent). Older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is expected to inherit the gift-giving mantle, especially after upgrading the delivery system to a sleigh-shaped flying fortress, and organizing the elves into a model of military and corporate perfection, both at the North Pole command center and in the field. Its made the process more efficient, but its also taken the heart out of it. While Steve looks forward to taking over as more than a figurehead, Arthur, snug in his Christmas slippers, is answering mail from kids all over the world, assuring them that Santa is real and that he cares about each and every one of them. Its a promise he takes it upon himself to keep when Steves hyper-mechanized operation forgets one child, Greta, and Steves response is as cold as a computers hibernating hard drive.
There is not a wasted moment from start to finish as the inevitable triumph of the Christmas spirit contends with a wild ride in an open sleigh piloted by an uncertain driver in retired Grand Santa (Bill Nighy), with Arthur clinging for dear life to the much-wrapped present courtesy of the fiercely perky Bryony (Ashley Jensen), a gift-wrap happy elf whose sense of protocol is matched only by her ingenuity in discovering new uses for the tools of her trade. The script offers clever bits of bait-and-switch, as well as sharply written humor that relies less on popular culture than on an absurdist view of family and corporate life. There is irreverence aplenty, but in the smartest move of many to be found here, the central theme of preserving a childs wonder is sacrosanct.
Details are also sacrosanct, adding, along with the expected whimsical character design and execution from the Aardman Studio, to the storys rich, thoughtful texture. What is new is not necessarily bad, and there is room for obsolescence, even if the delightfully fiddly equipment of yore has an irresistible charm. In the end, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS finds a way to make the holiday bright for everyone, especially the viewer, and in ways that never seem contrived, but rather as wondrously logical as they are eminently suitable.