Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Case for Aardman Christmas
Christmas movies normally are by their nature a turn off for me. They tend to be saccharine, sentimental things, dripping with songs and a happy ever after message that leaves me a bit nauseous. Luckily, there are some antidotes to this: Bad Santa; the classic one with Bill Murray (Scrooged, I believe); a few others. I can't claim that Arthur Christmas is one of those "antiXmas" movies, as it is not, but I had heard that the humour was pretty amusing and as it is also an Aardman production, it definitely seemed worth a look.
Even if that look had to be in 3D - Reading Cinemas, in their infinite wisdom, did not have a 2D session screening after 4.00pm. And so, I was forced into a pair of the unflattering 3D goggles, but then I have to admit that the 3D was actually pretty good.
As was the whole movie, actually. It helps having an amazing cast, with Jim Broadbent playing dim-witted Santa (which he does pretty well, as he has had lots of practice playing bumbling), Bill Nighy stealing the show as the crotchety GrandSanta, and Hugh Laurie beating his chest as the modernising Santa-in-waiting, Steve (loved his goatee too). The female voice actors, including Imelda Staunton and that lass from Extras, are also magnificent, even though they are not given a whole lot to do. The main character, Arthur, is voiced by James McAvoy and he is as good as you would expect, though I could quite easily hear Ewan McGregor putting on a similar starstruck English accent to pretty much the same effect.
The story is pretty barmy, and ends up as a flying race around the world (hence the benefit of watching it in good 3D), but where it really shines is in some of the throw away lines and props: a tube of Grandsanta's Chimney Lube sits unremarked (but greatly appreciated) in one scene; one child writes to Santa asking, "If you live in the North Pole, how come I can't find you on Google Earth?"; and as the crisis in the story reaches its peak, the Elves begin to doubt everything, one amongst the near hysterical throng crying, "Children are antimatter!", much to my mirth.
Sure, there are songs and familiar (yet ultimately meaningless) Christmas carols though this is mercifully not a musical. The movie teems with Northern Hemisphere Christmas imperialism (where if it's not snowing, it's not Christmas; everyone seems to write to Santa in English) but then, while the animation and references are pretty sophisticated, the basic premise of the story is not.
Overall though, it is hard to find too many faults with the film. Arthur Christmas is just so nice, so brimming with bonkers ideas, and Grandsanta is just so hilarious that it is very easy to like and, dare I say it, almost love this film.
Verdict: 'Tis the season to be jolly, and films like Arthur Christmas make it very easy to be so. It's a shame that Wallace and Gromit don't make a guest appearance, but Aardman productions make another brilliant movie, and the premium British voice cast is just the icing on the cake. 8.5 chestnuts roasting over an open fire out of 10.