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3.88

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Worth A Look87.5%
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1 review, 2 user ratings


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Arthur Christmas
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by Jay Seaver

"Grandsanta is coming to town!"
4 stars

"Arthur Christmas" is going to be overlooked by many just by having the lousy luck to open alongside two of the more anticipated and acclaimed family movies in recent history ("The Muppets" and Martin Scorcese's "Hugo"), despite the fact that it's got a thoroughly impressive pedigree of its own: It's the latest from Aardman Animation and has enough British acting talent doing voices to staff a Harry Potter movie, and nobody involved in this charming animated movie disappoints.

Title character Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) is the second son of the current Santa Claus (voiced by Jim Broadbent), and he tends to be a bit of a screw-up, which is why he works in the mailroom while older son Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie) actually runs the high-tech operation from Mission Control at the North Pole. Steve's a logistical genius, which is why the discovery of an undelivered present on his stealthy super-sleigh is a shock - but, hey, it's well within the margin for error. Arthur, though, can only think of how one little girl in Cornwall will feel when she's the only kid to wake up without a present under the tree, and so sets off with cantankerous retired "Grandsanta" (voiced by Bill Nighy) and elf Bryony (voiced by Ashley Jensen), an expert present-wrapper, to make things right.

They've only got hours to go, but with Grandsanta's magically-powered sleigh and three characters who can not only be expected to stumble, but stumble enthusiastically, that's plenty of time for a number of slapstick adventures all around the world. Many of them, admittedly, are a bit uneven, and some of the lesser ones could probably have been removed without much trouble if director Sarah Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham had opted to make a television holiday special rather than a feature film, but each sequence has something in it that's at least a little funny and thrilling enough to excite but not really scare the young audience members. Smith and company also load it with background jokes; I expect that there will be a lot of freeze-framing and rewinding of the eventual home video release to catch what that one elf said or what's showing on a computer monitor. The script is also peppered with funny lines, and Smith respects both the kids and adults in the audience to catch those jokes without underline them.

She also trusts the audience enough not to stop the movie for a big speech about the meaning of Christmas. Yes, the idea is to get us squarely in the corner of Arthur, who has a child's pure love of everything about the holiday, but she's able to do it without making villains out of Steve and Santa, who tend to view it as the cornerstone of their business and as a stressful, exhausting task, respectively (a number of adults likely just nodded their head at the latter characterization). The filmmakers are also smart enough to not simply pander to nostalgia, as represented by Grandsanta - Smith and company recognize that there's a certain selfishness to that perspective. Christmas, after all, is every one of those things.

Happily, the Christmases aren't just a metaphorical family, but an entertainingly real one, with plenty of room for stories about fathers, sons, and brothers. The folks at Aardman have made them fun to look at and matched a great set of voices to the visuals: Arthur is gangly and wide-eyed enough to seem like he stumbles just when walking across a room, with James McAvoy giving him a guileless but relatable voice so he's easy to identify with. Steve is sleek and powerful with just a hint of whimsy (I want to see someone rock his pine tree goatee in real life), with Hugh Laurie contributing cool confidence and a dry sense of humor. Bill Nighy kills pretty much every line he is given as the withered-but-frisky Grandsanta, while Jim Broadbent is a perfect match for this Santa; there's just enough exhaustion and confusion to him to make him ready for retirement but not pitiable. Mrs. Santa, of course, is played as thoroughly sensible and understanding. The best female character on display is Briony - she's visually sleek and aerodynamic, with the single eyebrow piercing marking her as a bit of an outsider but not a troublemaker, while Ashley Jensen's squeaky, speedy speech gets across how she's confident and capable but also has a youthful desire to prove herself. They are a fun group, and they've got a bunch of vocal cameos and amusing characters backing them up.

The movie is also gorgeous, using clean snowy whites to create and environment that is both Christmasy and high-tech without being sterile. Along those lines, the CGI errs on the side of toy-smooth (without the blemishes Aardman added to Flushed Away to make that film more closely resemble their stop-motion work), but has a fairly solid feel to it. The opening sequence, where we get a demonstration of just how so many presents can be delivered in one night, is a particularly wonderfully staged set piece - huge, fast-paced, and fanciful, but clear, "shot" with care so that it impresses the audience with its scale but doesn't overwhelm. It also looks pretty spiffy in 3D; cinematographer Jericca Cleland and the stereography crew are very good at using the third dimension to create scale and depth.

"Arthur Christmas" probably won't get talked up much this year; it's pitched more directly to kids than the other great family movie options playing theaters this month and apparently Aardman isn't a big enough brand name in the U.S. I'll bet it winds up getting pulled out regularly in future holiday seasons, though - it certainly looks to be sweet and clever enough to stand the test of time.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19713&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/30/11 20:10:26
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User Comments

12/04/11 Smitty Clever and amusing is exactly it. Somwhat funny but a bit predictable 3 stars
11/24/11 PAUL SHORTT ENDEARING, CLEVER AND AMUSING 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  23-Nov-2011 (PG)

UK
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Australia
  23-Nov-2011




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