‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring as a spaceship arrived.
Wait. Is that how the story goes?
In Arthur Christmas, a charming if not brilliant update on the story of Santa Claus, St. Nick is driven more by a palm pilot than eight tiny reindeer.
On the eve of his 70th trip around the world, Santa (Jim Broadbent: Harry Potter) is going thru the motions, letting his eldest son and heir apparent Steve (Hugh Laurie: House) orchestrate the present drops. Magical sleighs have been replaced by the S-1, a town-sized flyer that’s a cross between a flying saucer and a Lear jet, which camouflages its base to resemble the sky. Elves with Blackberrys and Olympic-class acrobatic skills sneak into houses to drop off toys to good girls and boys.
When each present is tucked away under the tree, the elves wake Santa — cookies, mince pies and other worldly treats make him sleepy, you know — so that he can drop off one present and take credit for the elves’ hard work.
Steve sits in Mission Control deep beneath the North Pole, where he supervises a roomful of elves who in turn supervise the present drops. The only hitch in this well-oiled machine appears in the form of his bumbling younger brother Arthur (James McAvoy: X-Men: First Class).
Though usually banished to the letter room, where he responds to all the children who write St. Nick, Arthur can’t resist sneaking down to Mission Control to experience the joy of Christmas with everyone. This would be wonderful, if Arthur wasn’t a complete klutz. Slipping on the ice floors — it is the North Pole, after all — in his reindeer slippers, Arthur knocks over computers, throws papers in the air and generally makes a nuisance of himself until the unthinkable happens: A child is missed on the Christmas Route.
Though both Steve and Santa have decided to let this little girl go present-less Christmas morning, Arthur can’t bear the idea that one child loses faith in Santa.
So along with his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy: Rango), who has been longing to get back in the field, Arthur delivers the present old-school: aboard a sleigh led by eight flying reindeer.
Because Arthur is bumbling and Grandsanta is clearly on the verge of dementia, this mission of Christmas cheer goes haywire. Soon major cities around the globe are reporting sightings of a UFO.
Will Arthur’s clumsy quest cause the Clauses to cancel next year’s Christmas? Is there a way to marry modern technology with traditions and magic? And will Santa choose the best Claus for the job to be his heir?
If only the title of the movie gave us a clue as to whom Santa picks.
Arthur Christmas is a sweet and flawed holiday tale that boasts wonderful voice work and astounding gaps in logic. The biggest fear of North Pole mission control is that a child wakes and spots Santa. By the movie’s logic, it’s essential that children believe in Santa. But if they lay eyes on him, it’s a disaster.
Why? What’s the worst that could happen? A child gets to hug St. Nick and faith is affirmed. Why must we cancel Christmas over that?
Also, are none of these parents concerned that presents they didn’t purchase have magically appeared under the tree? Or do parents believe in Santa, too? If they do, then why all the silly black-ops stunts to break into homes? Wouldn’t parents just leave the doors unlocked?
I might end up with a lump of coal for over-thinking the premise. Still, it seemed odd.
Yet there are some genuine laughs, especially from Grandsanta and his elderly pet reindeer, and exemplary voice work, especially from Laurie, who seems relieved to finally be able to speak in his native accent.
If you’ve got a group of little ones filled with the Christmas spirit, this is for you. If you’re a bit of a Scrooge, or maybe a movie reviewer, than you might want to bring some milk to fully enjoy this Christmas trifle.