The fine wizards at Aardman Animation, the same nifty conjurers of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run, have come, at the very least slightly, to the rescue of mundane Christmas-y filmmaking with their latest concoction Arthur Christmas. A refreshing and spirited holiday yarn that should find its inclusion onto a box set of Christmastime features that get rehashed year after year. Set in the North Pole, it's a fun and clever inside view of Santa's workshop, a place that runs like the tightest of ships, newly restored with the latest state of the art technology. With Santa (amusingly voiced by Jim Broadbent) making his rounds on this Christmas night, hemming and hawing like the celebrity he is to his to his worker elves, while his two sons Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), the militaristic alpha male, and Arthur (voiced by Jim Broadbent), the clumsy doormat in charge of Santa's letter writing, eagerly await who will be the heir the Santa throne. Adding more whimsy and humor to the familial dimension is Grand Santa (voiced to the hilt by Bill Nighy.) What sounds like a merely throwaway premise (which in essence, it is) makes for a charming lark of a feature, one, that like most of the Aardman pleasures may find itself to be more clever than hilarious. The set-up follows, as Santa returns from his nighttime sleigh ride (now thanks to Steve, a super-powered engine craft thingy that looks nothing like we've seen before-- on film, or in the heads of eager children's imaginations), there's a hitch-- one little British girl didn't receive a present, which prompts Arthur to go against orders and make his voyage in the sky. All of which brings about nicely greased lessons of the the real spirit of Christmas, and family loyalty and all that well and good stuff. Thankfully, Arthur Christmas with its gentle charm and manic speed never takes any preaching too seriously, nor wears out its welcome.
And for a year that's been so uncharitable on terms of quality animated features, I'd handily argue that this small confection may turn out to be the best this year. B