Like most people, I spent Christmas with family, and for me, that involved two very young children, both of whom love animated movies.
I almost passed over “Arthur Christmas,” though. With its relative obscurity compared to other animated flicks from bigger, better-known studios and underwhelming box-office performance, it didn’t strike me as something I could enjoy watching with my children.
After checking some of the film’s reviews, however, I decided to give it a chance.
I’m glad I did.
“Arthur” is a true gem in every sense of the word.
This film’s success is predicated on strong, clever writing, snappy direction, and great voice work by a talented, unexpectedly high-profile cast who perfectly and subtlety convey the script’s emotional, sentimental pull.
“Arthur” tells a Christmas-themed story about family, sibling and parent/child rivalry, and about the ways we lose sense of the true Christmas spirit in our modernized, digitized, instantaneous, at-times dysfunctionally technological society.
“Arthur” certainly isn’t the first film to explore the Santa Claus myth through Old Saint Nick’s family ties. It IS the first film I recall, however, wherein Santa’s job is an almost regal obligation passed from father to eldest son, generation to generation.
The lineal nature of the position makes Steve (Hugh Laurie), eldest son of the reigning Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent), the heir apparent. With his granite-like jaw, body-builder-like physique and his micro-managing, CEO-like approach to his Santa-in-training apprenticeship, we quickly sense that Steve might now be the right man to assume Santa’s mantle.
That suspicion grows more certain when, upon missing the delivery of a bicycle to a little girl named Gwen, Steve is unwilling to risk the ultra-high-power, ultra-high-tech and modernized S-1 sleigh delivery vehicle by re-launching for a single child.
To Steve’s thinking, out of billions and billions of successful Christmas Eve deliveries, the omission of a single gift to a single child amounts to an acceptable error-rate.
Not so for Steve’s younger brother Arthur, who’s aghast at the possibility of Gwen waking on Christmas morning to find nothing under the tree.
Thankfully, although Daddy Santa supports Steve’s position (he’s too close to retirement to rock the boat), Grand Santa (Bill Nighy) agrees with Arthur. More, Grand Santa is deeply impressed with Arthur’s compassion and his strength of character in refusing to allow a single child to go without on Christmas morning.
But what can a broken-down old Santa do to help? More than one might suspect, actually. Thanks to Grand Santa’s access to “Evie,” the original wooden sleigh used by countless generations of Santa Claus before the S-1’s advent, Arthur and Grandpa might just save the day.
As long as Steve and Daddy Claus don’t find out.
The original eight magical reindeer are long dead, but eight of their descendants remain housed and cared for in a stable close to Evie. Thanks to them and to Grand Santa’s insistence on the mission, he and Arthur — along with stowaway elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) — set off across the world to deliver Gwen’s bike.
Predictably, misadventure and hijinks ensue.
I won’t spoil the ending, but the final result of Arthur and Grand Santa’s mission is secondary to the journey here. And oh what fun it is to ride along with Arthur, Grand Santa and Bryony.
In fact, “Arthur Christmas” is the first film I’ve reviewed with the Daily News I wholeheartedly endorse for purchase.
It’s one of those rare Holiday films that not only engenders the Christmas Spirit, but is also sufficiently touching, funny and sophisticated to become part of any family’s holiday traditions for years to come.
Rating: Lone-wolf howl
Runtime: 97 minutes
Rated PG for no discernible reason other than the possibility that G Ratings might not entice as many adults
Rating System Explained: Rabies = 0; Yip = *; Bark = **; Howl = ***; Lone-wolf howl = ****; Leader of the pack = *****
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011