BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM, ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST
Author’s Note: This section is dedicated to calling attention to lesser known animated movies and television. If somebody has a suggestion for me to review or discuss, please feel free to email me and I will see what I can do!
I doubt that I’ve ever seen a darker children’s Christmas film than Aardman Animations’ “Arthur Christmas” (2011). And I love that. Don’t get me wrong; the film isn’t horrifically depressing. It’s full of wonderful and inventive hilarity, but underscored with dark humor and serious themes.
‘Twas the night before Christmas: everything proceeds as usual. Teams of special-ops elves deliver gifts with S.H.I.E.L.D.-like equipment under the micromanagement of Steve while the figurehead and patriarch Santa Claus dutifully follows the action. Yes, everything is normal—until the unimaginable happens. A present is forgotten and undelivered. Arthur, aghast, steals a sleigh and he, along with Grandsanta and Bryony the elf, travel around the world to deliver the gift before Christmas morning.
At the heart of “Arthur Christmas” is the dysfunctional Claus family. Santa Claus (voiced by Jim Broadbent: “Harry Potter”) is unwilling to admit his physical and mental capabilities are no longer suited for the role. Mrs. Claus (Imelda Staunton: “Harry Potter”) is the mild-mannered glue that keeps the family intact. Steve (Hugh Laurie: “House M.D.”), with his team of elves, literally and figuratively runs the Christmas operation. Arthur (James McAvoy: “Chronicles of Narnia”) is the clumsy younger son unaware of his family’s tense relationships. Finally, there’s Grandsanta (Bill Nighy: “Pirates of the Caribbean”), the disgruntled former Santa Claus who dreams of reliving his glory years.
Normally, I wouldn’t spend so much time explaining the background plot and characterization, but I felt like they were too important to leave out, as both elements build off the other. Unlike most other Christmas movies, “Arthur Christmas” takes special care to shape the Claus family dynamics. The film also shifts the title of “Santa” from a mystical entity to a relatable figure, leaving enough room to sympathize with all the characters.
As always, Aardman produces another wonderfully animated film from a technical standpoint. There was a lot of intricate details laced throughout and the texture of the snow added to the vibrancy of the film. The tight screenwriting shines through as well, especially in the progression of Arthur’s understanding of himself and his family.
The highlight character in this film is Grandsanta. He’s quite memorable, because Aardman filters all their politically incorrect jokes through him and justifies it as the old-age syndrome. One of my personal favorites was, “Your brother came along, with all his, ‘You can’t cut through Saigon. There’s a war.’ Rubbish.”
There isn’t much I have to say negatively. The thick accents are occasionally hard to understand. Also, I admit it took me about 10 minutes to get used to the animation of the people, with their strangely bulbous noses and polished skin.
In the end, the Clauses have to learn to love without expecting too much or too little from themselves and each other, which I suppose is all anyone can ask for this Christmas.