We now have Christmas in October.
Go into just about any store in America a few weeks before Halloween and you’ll see it: the wheels of the relentless machine of holiday commerce spinning to life. So it would be easy to look upon an effort like Arthur Christmas as part of the whole cynical ordeal that threatens to suck the wonder out of the most wonderful time of the year.
The movie pulls the curtain back on the Santa operation at the north pole, revealing that Santa is not one man, but a series of men who have worn the red suit as their birthright from one generation to the next. In the 21st century, Santa’s operation is a model of high-tech efficiency with with the militaristic Santa-to-be Steve (Hugh Laurie) running a ground control station manned by hundreds of elves that would put NASA to shame. That’s because the current Santa, Malcolm (voiced by Jim Broadbent) now serves some six million children via “S1,” a sleigh-like aircraft manned by thousands of elite elves that would but Star Fleet to shame.
Steve aims to engineer a flawless gift delivery to the children of the globe, all of which fascinates his clumsy, neurotic little brother Arthur (James McAvoy) who serves as Santa’s letter-answerer. It’s a job that keeps him out of the way and prevents him from fouling up the operation. But this year something goes awry and a pink bicycle is misplaced leaving young Gwen without a present. It’s a tiny margin of error, argues Steve, and of no concern. But Arthur is mortified. See, he’s the one who personally assures the kids through his letters that Santa is real and he cares about them.
And so Arthur, along with his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and a high-strung wrapping elf names Bryony (Ashley Jensen) embark on a frantic mission to deliver the last present before sun up in Gwen’s tiny European town, and keep the wonder of Christmas alive for all kids.
And you know what? Arthur Christmas (coming before Thanksgiving as it is) managed to restore a little bit of that holiday wonder to this reviewer.
As animated movies this one certainly looks snazzy. Initially it dazzles us with whiz-bang sci-fi/spy effects, with the massive Starship Santa hovering over cities as thousands of helpers rappel down zip lines and stealth their way into homes like they’re on an impossible mission. Then it deftly changes gears, serving up old-world charm as Grandsanta dusts off the classic sleigh, eight massive reindeer and a bottle of distilled Christmas magic to fuel a more traditional winter’s night run.
But the core of the movie is the dysfunctional family populated by the distinct personalities of Santas past, present and future. With Steve building on that relentless machine that has us so dispirited these days, Arthur’s enthusiasm and embodiment of the feeling of the holidays is a most-welcome antidote.
If you need a sincere dose of the Christmas spirit, but don’t want something that’s stuffy and old-fashioned, look no further Arthur Christmas.