Sunday 4 December 2016

Review: Arthur Christmas

Rating: * * * *
(G, general release)

Paul Whitington

Published 11/11/2011 | 18:00

One could get depressed about the idea of a film with Christmas in the title appearing in early November, but in the case of Arthur Christmas that would be exceedingly churlish. Because this British-led festive computer animation co-produced by Sony and Nick Park's Aardman Studios is a hugely enjoyable action comedy that positively overflows with personality and wit.

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In a vast, secret compound beneath the North Pole, the Claus family and their army of elves are preparing for Christmas. The role of Santa has been passed from father to son for centuries, and the current incumbent (Jim Broadbent) is considering calling it a day.

In line to succeed him is Steve (Hugh Laurie), his oldest son, who runs the annual Christmas Eve delivery with military precision. Santa's younger son, Arthur (James McAvoy), doesn't get a look-in: he's clumsy and neurotic and spends most of his time answering letters in the post room. When Santa and his elves return from a Christmas Eve run and find that a present for a little girl in Cornwall called Gwen has not been delivered, Steve dismisses it as a minor detail. But Arthur is devastated, and sets out to deliver it himself with the help of his grandfather, a retired Santa, and an ancient sleigh.

Nicely animated and very well written, Arthur Christmas is one of the most enjoyable animations that's appeared this year. A fine voice cast includes Imelda Staunton, Joan Cusack, Dominic West and Robbie Coltrane, and Bill Nighy is wonderful as Arthur's crusty and belligerent grandfather. Director Sarah Smith keeps things moving along at a hectic pace, and the film is full of hilarious moments, many of them courtesy of the hysterical elves, who are prone to bouts of existential panic.

Arthur Christmas is sweet enough to be enjoyed by the very young, and knowing enough to please parents and other adults. It's a major step forward for Aardman Animation, and one hopes there are more films like this one to come.

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