out of Five
Running time: 97
Arthur Christmas is beautifully animated, has a superb voice cast and delivers its Christmas message in a refreshingly unsentimental way, but it also drags in the middle and isn't as laugh-out-loud funny as it should have been.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sarah Miles, Arthur Christmas is a digitally animated, British Christmas adventure from the Aardman stable. It opens with a sequence of elves delivering presents all over the world thanks to a giant sled-shaped spaceship, an integral part of a new hi-tech operation presided over by a doddery Santa (Jim Broadbent) but run from the operation base in the North Pole by Santa-in-waiting Steve (Hugh Laurie), Santa's oldest son.
However, when a present falls off a conveyor belt and gets left behind, Steve and Santa are prepared to write it off as within an acceptable margin of error, so it's up to Santa's youngest son, Christmas-loving Arthur (James McAvoy) to make sure no child gets left behind, Christmas-wise. With the aid of his crotchety Grandsanta (Bill
Nighy) and an elf skilled in high-speed present-wrapping (Ashley Jensen as Bryony), Arthur sets off in an old-fashioned sled but things don't quite go according to plan.
Needless to say, the animation is gorgeous throughout, particularly during the whizzy opening sequence, which is packed with detail and has several great background gags. That said, the 3D effects don't really add anything to the film, so you're better off watching the 2D version where at least you won't have the attendant loss of colour.
The voice cast are excellent, particularly Jensen and Nighy, who make a pleasingly bonkers pair of sidekicks and get all the best lines. In addition, the script features a couple of enjoyable set-pieces and, unusually for a Christmas film, delivers its Christmas message without getting bogged down in sickly sweet sentimentality.
One problem with the film is that Arthur himself is a fairly bland and not very funny character – there's not much more to him than a monomania for Christmas, some gangly limbs and a silly jumper. Similarly, the pacing drags considerably in the middle section and a sub-plot involving the sled being mistaken for a UFO should probably have been dropped.
However, perhaps the biggest problem is that it just doesn't feel like an Aardman film – it lacks the wit and visual invention of the studio's best work and while it's gently amusing throughout, it never delivers any proper laugh-out-loud moments.
Beautifully animated and frequently charming, Arthur Christmas has some nice ideas and a strong voice cast but it's not quite as funny as it should have been and it's let down by a bland lead character.