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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Arthur Christmas a Worthy Holiday Entry

Written by Kirk Baird

Arthur Christmas is a charming holiday film that deserves a place among the classics of the season. This animated tale is as joyous as the season it celebrates, with a warm message for Christmas about the spirit of giving.

The story concerns the silly and sometimes clumsy son of Santa, Arthur (voice of James McAvoy), a good-natured soul who spends time working in the letter department at his dad's North Pole facility. Arthur loves Christmas, but his taskmaster brother Steve (voice of Hugh Laurie), who runs Santa's workshop and the gift deliveries, treats the holiday as a business. He's transformed Santa's workshop into a high-tech business to ensure children worldwide receive their Christmas gifts on time.

But when a little girl is inadvertently passed over, Steve focuses on how well the operation went otherwise, with only a tiny percentage point of error, and convinces an old and rather worn down Santa (voice of Jim Broadbent) that he shouldn't worry about the happiness of a single child out of a billion. Arthur feels differently, and with the help of his Grandsanta (voice of Bill Nighy), who retired from the family business long ago, as well as a gift-wrapping elf, he sets out to make things right, leading to a rash of problems and important life lessons along the way.

Arthur Christmas eschews most of the conventions of today's animated films. There are no cute, talking animals, and only a few scattered pop culture references. In that respect, Arthur Christmas, like its message about losing some of the magic of Christmas with high-tech gadgetry, is a throwback. The computer animation is well done and the 3-D subtle but effective. The cast, led by McAvoy and Laurie, are spot on. McAvoy brings a quirky and fun sensibility to Arthur, and Laurie makes Steve stern but never overbearing. Steve is as close to an antagonist as the film provides, but he's really not that bad — just a bit misguided about the importance of Santa.

Arthur Christmas was directed by Sarah Smith in her feature-film debut. Smith also co-wrote the script with Peter Baynham (Borat and Bruno). Arthur Christmas was overlooked by audiences during its holiday run last year. Now out on DVD and Blu-ray, here's hoping holiday history won’t be repeated.

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