When a Christmas gift – a bike – accidentally goes undelivered to a little girl, Santa’s son Arthur takes the initiative to solve the problem. Arthur Christmas is a joint venture between Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations, the British studio known for Wallace and Gromit. Cold, charmless Christmas movie radiates scarcely any tradition or warmth. I didn’t realize the classic tale of Santa Claus needed to be re-written for contemporary audiences but that’s what we’re presented with here. It’s about as captivating as a lump of coal.
The story’s decidedly modern, revisionist history of Santa Claus is kind of icky. Santa travels around in a gleaming red space ship to drop off presents in high tech fashion. However, Santa wants to step down from his position (!) Apparently he is just the latest in a long line of Santas that pass from one generation to the next when the guy is ready to retire. Grand Santa, a cranky 136-year-old (!) is still around in fact. Santa has an older son – Steve, who looks like a bodybuilder and manages everything at mission control back at the North Pole. Steve thinks he’s the logical choice to replace father. Santa’s younger son – Arthur is a klutz that oversees the letter department. The elves joke what a loser he is (!) After failing to deliver one package, Steve maintains that Santa shouldn’t worry about the happiness of one child out of a billion (!) Although more taskmaster than evil, Steve is the closest thing to an antagonist in the film. Santa ultimately decides nothing can be done (!) so his son Arthur plans to rectify the situation.
Arthur Christmas is an overly simplified tale aimed exclusively at very young children. When you get right down to it, the entire plot concerns the delivery of one package. That’s hardly a story to excite the senses. There’s plenty of colorful, eye popping visuals, however. It’s slick and frantically paced but very little of it engenders any sort of tenderness. All of the hyperactivity actually gave me a headache. Additionally the high caliber British cast (James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton) have been instructed to shout all of their lines as if that would makes their voice performances funnier. That doesn’t work in bad sitcoms and it doesn’t work here. It’s not all wretched. There’s a sexually ambiguous little elf named Bryony who is a peculiar gift-wrapping obsessive. She/He/It is kind of amusing. But as for the rest of it, I found this frantic exercise extremely lacking in Christmas spirit.