I really wanted to see Hugo this week, but to my utter shock, when I checked the listings, it wasn’t there. A big-budget 3D Martin Scorcese movie getting shunted aside like a two-bit Canadian independent? Impossible. So I complained to Empire Theaters. The email I got back was along the lines of “too bad, maybe it’ll pop by some other time” LIKE THEY DIDN’T FREAKING KNOW. It was at that point that I realized it would be pointless to continue pushing these idiots and settled for Arthur Christmas instead. I had hopes for it. After all, it’s Aarman’s latest film.
The bumbling second son of Santa joins forces with his aging grandfather and an elf wrapping specialist to deliver a gift to the one kid missed by their high-tech Christmas operation.
There’s really not much that hasn’t been said or done when it comes to Christmas. The militarized elves were done in Santa Clause and Fred Claus featured a screwup son of Santa, so it wasn’t the concept that attracted me. It was the involvement of Aardman, who has made some of the funniest cartoons I’ve seen, including Chicken Run and Flushed Away. I took a chance and found out I was right: Arthur Christmas is hilarious.
As funny as it was, though, I’m not sure I would have seen it if I had known I would have to sit through a Justin Bieber music video first. When he popped onscreen, my first impulse was to mute the TV, but unfortunately that doesn’t work in the theater, and I couldn’t exactly cover my ears and scream “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” or JB’s screechy ten year old fans would have torn my throat out. So I had to suffer through four minutes of girly crooning in the form of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” What made it extra hilarious is that he was prancing around in a clockwork version of Santa’s workshop, evidently trying for a steampunk look.
Unfortunately, no one told Mr. Bieber that there was more to steampunk
than gluing clock parts to his regular clothes.
Anyway: Arthur Christmas. The film begins on Christmas eve, just as they’re wrapping up (hur hur, wrapping up!) the year’s gift deliveries. Santa (Jim Broadbent) is an aging figurehead who has to be guided through all the steps by his oldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie). Steve is the architect of the enormous supersonic UFO sled and the rappelling ninja gift delivery elves, which make gift delivering look like a cross between a military operation and an alien invasion.
“Sir! Risk of mooing 98%!”
Steve assumes that after this operation, he will be promoted to Santa and his dad will retire, but it doesn’t happen. Santa decides to stick around and Steve stomps off to sulk, so he’s not in the mood to hear about it when Bryony (Ashley Jensen), a gift wrapping elf cleaning the floors, finds an undelivered gift. He declares that they should just forget about it, it’s impossible to get there in time.
I believe the word you’re looking for is “bah humbug,” Steve.
Arthur (James MacAvoy), who is afraid of heights, speed, and has all the grace of a three-legged water buffalo, believes that every kid should have a perfect Christmas. His job is to write letters back to children and he knows the kid who was missed, Gwen (Ramona Marquez) will be shattered if she doesn’t get a gift from Santa, so he goes along with it when hiss half-mad Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) suggests they use the old magic sleigh-and-reindeer combination to zip down to Trelew, England and drop off the gift.
GRANDSANTA: “On Dasher, on Dancer… what are the others called? I can never ruddy remember. Bambi??
Arthur doesn’t want to get on the death trap, but his worry about Gwen overrides his fear of being dumped into the freezing ocean at high speeds in the dead of night, and he agrees to go. Bryony stows away, and now we have the makings of an adventure, especially since Grandsanta is at the reins, navigating by an old map that doesn’t even have Toronto on it.
GRANDSANTA: “Santas always cut through Canada, there’s nobody there!
There’s only about two hours to go before sunrise in England, so the film unfolds almost in real time as they flounder around trying to locate Trelew, ending up in such diverse places as Canada, Mexico, Tanzania, and Spain, which means we don’t get that incredibly annoying effect that American filmmakers always go for where Santa doesn’t ever visit any countries other than America.
We are not in Kansas, etc.
The plot isn’t exactly enthralling. The fact that they keep ending up in the wrong place makes it seem like the filmmakers are trying to kill time so the movie isn’t over too soon. The thing that makes it worth watching is the humor. Grandsanta is half mad, so everything that comes out of his mouth is a comic gem.
“What, reindeer? Daft old codgers with twigs on their heads.
There’s also a lot of throwaway and background humor that you might pick up on if you’re paying attention, such as the signs on the bridge, the jabs at excessive toy packaging, and turning the tremendous amount of milk and cookies left out for Santa into biofuel for their giant space ship.
Which still doesn’t explain where they got the money to buy/build/develop the ruddy thing in the first place.
My one big complaint is that there really aren’t many women in this story. Gwen, the kid they’re delivering the present for, is a girl but she’s barely in it. Same for Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton), the only female member of the Claus family, who’s only around for a few scenes and is mostly there to humor her doddering old husband. The one brief nod to females is actually a quip from Grandsanta, where he responds to Steve’s proclamation of it being impossible to deliver the gift on time with: “they used to say it was impossible to teach women to read.”
“Oh Malcom,” etc.
Anyway, I just thought that was weird, seeing how the movie was co-written and directed by a woman: Sarah Smith. Maybe Peter Baynham, the other writer, did most of the story. It wasn’t enough to turn me off (even Justin Bieber wasn’t enough to get me to leave) so I do recommend Arthur Christmas to you. It’s a G-rated movie that uproariously funny for adults and cute enough to entice kids, so it’s one of those films you can bring the whole family to. Perhaps on Christmas Eve?