Australia celebrates Christmas in the heart of summer and yet watching the latest animation from the esteemed Aardman Studios I couldn’t help but notice the chill. Arthur Christmas may look like a cute and inoffensive yuletide movie for the kids and their undemanding parents, but it eventually proves to be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. As I slunk into the back of my chair, my eyes peering out through the unnecessary 3D glasses at the hyperactive action unfolding on screen, there was little more I could ask for Christmas than for this exhausting cacophony of noise to end.
Taking place almost entirely on Christmas Eve, this directorial debut for Sarah Smith follows the exploits of Santa’s son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class). You see, Santa (Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge) and his entire operation have jumped into the 21st century, what with an invisible sled-ship (it’s like a spaceship, but not) and millions of elf minions delivering presents around the globe. Santa’s eldest son, and next in line to take over the role of Father Christmas, is Steve (Hugh Laurie, House), a muscular man with a beard shaped like a Christmas tree and ambition that will further revolutionise the act of present delivery. There are also aliens. Yes, aliens.
I’m pooped already and we haven’t even gotten to the ceaselessly bumbling antics of Arthur, which destroy the movie before it’s even gotten off the rooftop. This gangly, accident-prone man is a telling motif for the rest the movie. So nauseating and saccharine is Arthur’s love for the gift of giving that he’s never content to just sit still. Arthur is constantly jumping, yelling, falling, rolling, collapsing, traipsing, cycling, slipping and sliding his way around the candy-coloured frame. When Arthur discovers one British girl didn’t receive her present, he sets out on a tiresome “action-packed adventure”. Pit stops in Africa (do the famine-stricken children of Africa get a present? they don’t even warrant a mention) quickly segue into being stranded on a desert island and a quick trip to Vancouver. It’s like Earnest Saves Christmas but with the added price hike of dull 3D.
Rather than be an elegant, moving tale about Christmas’ ability to bring out the inner-child in us all, Arthur Christmas sticks to repetitive sight gags and awful – and I do mean AWFUL – dialogue puns. At only 97 minutes it thankfully ends before any seriously damaging migraines can take hold, but some fun voice work (Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton show up, too) is the only saving grace of his tactless, shameless attempt at heart-tugging family “fun”. Oy to the world…
Arthur Christmas was released in Australia on November 24th
Director: Sarah Smith
Cast: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Laura Linney,
Eva Longoria, Ashley Jensen, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack and Michael Palin