ARTHUR CHRISTMAS ***
I’m not a fan of CGI kids’ movies, but ARTHUR CHRISTMAS – a big-budget, British entry into the genre – is really quite funny and enjoyable, and I can recommend it. I laughed out loud on many occasions – something I can’t say about Rango or any of the Shreks.
The premise is that Santa Claus is a job, and that people get promoted to it. The process of distributing presents to kids around the world is highly corporatized. The North Pole is, essentially, Amazon, without any costs to the consumer.
It’s fun. For us adults, there are references galore: The Thunderbirds, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind are all there. Beyond that, how about this: Jim Broadbent, playing Walter, who currently serves as Santa Claus, is married to a woman named “Margaret” – a definite in-joke about the fact that Jim Broadbent is playing Dennis Thatcher in the upcoming biopic The Iron Lady.
There are things you just wouldn’t see in a Pixar or Disney movie. For example, one of the main elves has an eyebrow piercing, uncommented on. Even more than that: two of the boy elves kiss… each other. It’s progressive.
Not being a father, I’m not sure about one central question: does the film diminish, or add to, the mythology of Santa Claus? Would a kid who believes in Santa Claus come out of it excited or massively disillusioned? It certainly doesn’t pretend that Santa Claus is “real”. But then… does any kid believe that Santa Claus is real any more? I literally don’t know.
Like all CGI films, there is a law of diminishing returns. The set-up of the world and the characters is terrific, but once the plot kicks in – a kid missed out on a present and young “Arthur” and an older, retired Claus must deliver it – things become a little boring. Who cares? It’s not an involving story.
There’s a lot to like, however. The voice acting is way above average. The characters are very enjoyable (with, unfortunately, the exception of “Arthur” himself – why are the “leads” in CGI movies always the least interesting?) The reindeers are beautiful. And there are some devastatingly funny lines: at one point, commenting on how things change, the previous Santa tells Arthur “they used to say it was impossible to teach women to read.” I doubt you’d hear that in a Pixar film, let alone a Disney.
The film has been constructed to be enjoyed in 3D. I saw the 2D version, and I regret it. It’s obviously been well designed for the third element. All of the human characters have long, pointy, red noses. Beyond the obvious (and witty) reference to Rudolph, they turn towards the “camera” quite a lot. I can imagine kids would find these moments great fun in 3D. Indeed, I can imagine kids would find the whole film great fun. Recommended.