Sony PicturesNow Showing
Although stamped with the imprimatur of Aardman Animation - those clever clogs behind Chicken Run (2000) and the Wallace and Gromit franchise - Arthur Christmas, a collaboration with Sony Animation, bears only the slightest of Aardman touches.
There is of course the unmistakeably British humour, provided by an impressive Brit voice cast - James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy - but the look of the film is rather less identifiably Aardman.
Perhaps that has something to do with the film, directed and co-written (with Peter Baynham) by Sarah Smith, being computer animated rather than the old school stop motion which one associates with Aardman. Then again, Flushed Away, Aardman Animation's 2006 foray into computer animation, managed to keep those distinctive characteristics of big eyes and buck teeth when exchanging old technology for new.
Arthur Christmas is a much slicker, shinier looking film but then again so are the modern day North Pole headquarters of Santa Claus. Manned by an army of elves, the all-white decor of mission control resembles those of NASA (well, if they hadn't received major budget cuts), and is overseen by Steven (Laurie), eldest son of Santa (Broadbent), and heir apparent to the red and white suit (which he plans to replace with his own Versace number).
With Santa completing his 70th mission, tradition dictates that the jolly fat man secede to the next in line. But Santa decides not to retire with the Mrs (Staunton). He also decides, very un-Santa-like, not to remedy a situation which sees one little girl in the English village of Cornwall left without a present.
This shocks and saddens Santa's youngest son, Arthur (McAvoy), who, as head of the Letters Department, knows just how much this oversight will mean to the child - and to himself. Santa may be his dad, but Arthur is more in awe of the myth than the man; his office is a shrine to the jolly fat man and the ideals he represents.
Arthur is convinced by his grandfather, Grandsanta (Nighy), to fix the situation himself - the old school way. Sporting a massive chip on his shoulder from being dumped as Santa by his son 70 years ago, Grandsanta also rails against Steven's heavy reliance on technology: a giant spacecraft now enables Santa to deliver presents worldwide in one evening; reindeer and sleigh have long been assigned to the scrap heap.
Retrieving both from the proverbial mothballs, Grandsanta, Arthur and Bryony (Ashley Jensen), an elf from giftwrapping with a gift for wrapping, set out to deliver the gift - and the gift of Christmas - to one little girl. Of course, nothing goes to plan with a series of misadventures (all in unnecessary 3D) ensuring there are plenty of laughs and tears before sunrise on December 25.
In a year that's been rather underwhelming for animated films, and family films generally, Arthur Christmas manages to make it on to the 'Nice' list. I could be trite and cruel, and say it's ho-ho-hum (what's that? I just did!), and more of a stocking stuffer than a Christmas classic but the film isn't without its moments. And thankfully, despite the Yuletide theme, it's refreshingly light on saccharine.