Movie review: Arthur Christmas

Arthur is the second-born son of Santa in the PG Animated film Arthur Christmas


 It is a most welcome development that most animated films worth their salt currently are entertaining endeavors not just for children, but, almost more specifically for adults.  In my estimation, they’re even more worth their salt if their ability to delight and astound does not rely on them being in the current lamentable fad of 3-D. 

   Such is the case with the new holiday film, Arthur Christmas.  In comparison to many previous holiday works of the “family” persuasion, this one from writers Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham (Smith directing), is like it being the I-PAD in the stocking and they being the lumps of coal.

What makes Arthur Christmas so terrific is the fun it has with two Christmas themes not previously treated: How does Santa “pass the reins” to the next generation and how does the delivery of presents to an ever-expanding world of children move with the times?  This is where small fry may get left behind in the fully-enjoying department.  Oh, they’ll respond to the plot’s main crux of little Gwen of Trelew, Cornwall,  wanting a Pink Twinkle bike under the Christmas tree and the lump-in-the-throat, edge-of-the-seat possibility of her not getting it.

But, most of the proceedings related to how Santa’s second-born son, Arthur (voice of James McAvoy), fights to earn the approval of his father (voice of Jim Broadbent) and the right to take charge of the North Pole will go right over toddlers’ and pre-tweens’ heads.

For, this is a very trenchant examination—‘amid all the dazzling color, rib-tickling wit and zany action—of career and identity linked to work.  It’s also about issues of entitlement; of knowing when to gracefully exit the scene and let the next generation have a go, even as the older, out-to-pasture generation may just yet have the fire in the belly and the experience to contribute to a vast, intricate and critical enterprise.

   Arthur Christmas doesn’t slight one of the classic, traditional themes of yuletide: making children’s wishes come true.  It’s a responsibility Arthur holds as sacred; he’s proud that he’s part of his father’s power to grant wishes.

Christmas Eve’s magic wouldn’t happen without Arthur turning each child’s letter to Santa into production and delivery orders for the army of “mission impossible” elves under the command of the overbearingly efficient wunderkind first-born son, Steve (voice of Hugh Laurie).

Although Arthur’s a bundle of joyous energy leaping about the vast array of elves at their computer terminals, you can almost feel him shrink and fade before the onslaught of Steve’s authoritative precision and perfectionism: Mistakes don’t!…they can’t!!…happen.

Until the pink twinkle bike so carefully wrapped under the watchful eye of dedicated elf, Bryony (voice of Ashley Jensen) is discovered late Christmas Eve night—after Santa has made his deliveries around the world (in a supersonic craft on the order of the Star Trek Enterprise)—on the dark and deserted command center floor.

Does Steve swing into operation Special Delivery?  Does Santa leave his cozy bed to take the controls? Does anybody care that little Gwen will not open a bike Christmas morning?  No, no and YES!  Arthur cares and refuses to accept Santa’s shirking and Steve’s corporate-ese solution: It’ll get there “in the window” of holiday delivery.

Can Arthur save Gwen’s Christmas? He might, if he puts his faith in the older generation: his “retired”, 136-year-old “Grandsanta” (voice of Bill Nighy); and faith in an older technology: a sleigh (“Eve,” build in 1845).  He can, if he uses both his “seasonal positivity” and his “worry” negativity to meet every time-consuming crisis that besets his and Grandsanta’s 2,000-plus-mile trip.

All the jollity and suspense converge in Trelew, when three generations vying for the honor of giving Gwen her heart’s desire, realize this is where the torch is passed and this is the right choice of whom to pass it to.

Arthur is the second-born son of Santa in the PG Animated film Arthur Christmas

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