Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Aardman, best known for the “Wallace & Gromit” series, return to the big screen with a Christmas story that’s charming and cheerful, though it tends to putter out of steam midway through.
The film answers one of the biggest questions kids have: How does Santa distribute presents to kids all over the world? Turns out Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), one of Santa’s sons, has figured it out. Using a city-sized airplane and a battalion of squadron-trained elves that break into houses to drop off presents, Christmas gift distribution is a military-like operation.
Arthur (James McAvoy), the more unambitious of the two brothers, spends his time answering letters from kids, and as the hero of the piece, is the one who seems to have an inkling of what Christmas is meant to be.
Steve’s plans almost go perfectly, but it isn’t perfect. One gift is left undistributed, and when Arthur finds out, he’ll do his utmost to make sure that this last gift gets to the recipient, a little girl in a small town in Britain. Arthur teams up with Grandpa Santa (Bill Nighy), and executes a mission to send the last present to its destination, using the old-school methods of reindeer and sled.
Naturally, it leads to Steve and Santa (Jim Broadbent), who is more of a figurehead unwilling to give up the job, rediscovering the meaning of Christmas. Unless you haven’t been watching any Christmas films for the past two decades, has nothing to do with a baby in a manger or other religious matters.
The CG animation here is reminiscent of “Flushed Away”, and not the clay animation that Aardman is better known for. There’s plenty of inventive gags here, spoofing action movies such as the “Mission Impossible” series as well as James Bond gadgets.
Directed by Sarah Smith, there are quite a few inspired moments, particularly when the sled goes awry and ends up in unexpected territory. She still can’t quite imbibe the film with much magic, as parts of it feel as constructed as Steve’s military operation. (We all know that old reindeer following the group is going to save the day at the end right?)
The British accents on display here, along with some rapid fire dialogue, are undoubtedly going to go over the head of younger ones as well as their parents.
It’s not quite superb but a commendable effort, capturing some of the Christmas cheer. There’s some superb voicework from the mostly British cast, particularly Nighy.
Still, it lacks the madcap inventiveness and irreverence of the “Wallace and Gromit” series, where one could find murderous penguins and robot vending machines on a moon made of cheese. Arthur Christmas is more nice than naughty, and is cheerfully passable Christmas fare.