Friday, 23 December 2011

'Arthur Christmas' review:

The second computer animated feature from beloved British stop motion specialists Aardman, 'Arthur Christmas' is a thoroughly enjoyable family movie which, in the tradition of festive films, sees an enthusiastic youngster try to save the holiday against all odds. Our Christmas-loving hero of the hour is the titular Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) - the youngest son of the incumbent Santa (Jim Broadbent), himself the latest of a hereditary line of jolly, present-giving fat men dating back to the original Saint Nick.

Something of an overlooked, accident-prone outcast on the North Pole, Arthur customarily spends this time of year replying to children's letters in the shadow of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie): the brains behind the family business, groomed as their father's successor. But in Steve's increasingly soulless, mechanised version of Christmas - where presents are delivered via a spaceship manned by teams of high-tech elves - one child has been accidentally overlooked due to technical error. Arthur is horrified when told that Steve - who swears the evening has been a statistical success - won't be going back to deliver little Gwen's (Ramona Marquez) bicycle and takes it upon himself to ensure she wakes up to a gift from Santa, lest her fragile heart be broken.

This daring, covert mission involves pairing up with a former Santa - Arthur's cranky, old fashioned 136 year old grandfather (Bill Nighy) - to pilot a forgotten reindeer-powered sleigh and make the hazardous journey to the girl's Cornwall home before sunrise. But without the benefits of Sat Nav they end up rocketing across several continents facing danger and petty inconvenience along the way - evading everything from hungry African lions to British military fighter jets whilst careening between city streets and mountain ranges in set pieces of effective 3D spectacle.

Aside from the guileless, faultlessly good-natured Arthur, each member of the Christmas clan is written with a touching degree of subtly, with none overtly heroic or particularly villainous. The grandfather is the most fun, constantly coming out with opinions and anecdotes which are well observed, if exaggerated, versions of the sorts of (often offensive) things people of "the greatest generation" say. Meanwhile Broadbent gives his slightly rubbish Santa a touching air of vulnerability. The whole thing benefits from a cynicism free spirit of fun, with action scenes, earnest character development business and everything in between peppered with inspired visual gags, deftly written one-liners and delightfully daft concepts. The result is something that's surprisingly laugh out loud funny, as co-written by long-time Armando Iannucci collaborators Peter Baynham and director Sarah Smith.

'Arthur Christmas' is rated 'U' by the BBFC and is out now in the UK.

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