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The Media Man Reviews: Arthur Christmas

Title card

It's incredible how this movie is 12 years old at this point yet it still feels like it's pretty recent.


Released in 2011 and made by Aardman Animations in collaboration with Sony Pictures Animations, Arthur Christmas is Aardman's second foray into the world of computer-animation after they made Flushed Away in 2006 with DreamWorks Animations. The film sadly was a box office flop when it released, only making $147 million worldwide against a $100 million budget but it was critically acclaimed and nowadays has grown a following to the point it's now considered a Christmas classic alongside other projects like The Snowman, A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I was one of those people that didn't see it at the time of its release and only saw it a few years later so I feel kinda guilty for playing a part in it flopping at the box office. ^^; Still, I've seen it so better later than never I guess.


Arthur Christmas has thankfully been getting more recognition over time thanks to many YouTube creators covering the movie and the positive critical reception and it often evokes some interesting discussions about the themes it represents and how it's not like other Christmas movies. So I'm here to give it the recognition it deserves alongside those other creators.


Is Arthur Christmas deserving of its praise or is it a bad present that should be discarded? Let's take a ride in the S-1 and fly into this movie...


Section 1: The Story


This movie sure gives us a creative twist on the Santa mythos!


Arthur Christmas sees a typical Christmas Eve night underway as Santa Claus and his elves deliver all the presents to the children of the world. Unfortunately, unforseen circumstances cause a present to be undelivered and with nobody feeling that it can be delivered in time, Arthur and his grandfather, Grand Santa, go on the trip of a life time to make sure that Gwen doesn't miss her present from Santa.


The story sounds VERY basic for a Christmas movie but as we all know, it's not the idea that's important in a story, it's the execution that makes or breaks it and the execution here MAKES this movie. We get a very creative twist on the Santa mythos in where Santa isn't just some jolly old guy in a seligh, he actually commands an entire army of elves who fly around the world in a super-fast hi-tech ship called the S-1 and they're armed with a variety of gadgets and gizmos that help with making the big Christmas Day deliveries. The entire opening act of the movie is so awesome to watch as a result of this creative spin on the classic Santa stories and I honestly wish the whole movie could've been just that becuase it'd be so cool to watch. Still, the rest of the story holds up well too, it's not just the opening that's great.


What else makes the story engaging is how it keeps true to the tone of a classic Christmas special with a lot of humour on display from visual gags to word play and more, charming looking animation that'll talk more about later and of course, a lot of heart that you'd expect from a movie like this. The big conflict of the movie is the Clauses trying to get this present to Gwen in time and it's really inspiring to see how much these guys care about what they're doing and the lengths they're going to in order to finish the job. Of course Arthur's the one who cares the most while the rest have to grow over the course of the movie to care as much as he does but that's the point of the story. One of the overarching themes of Arthur Christmas is the theme of Santa. What does the role of Santa ACTUALLY mean to people and is it just some title or does it mean anything more? It's a good subject matter for a film focused on a family of Clauses and it lends the story some interesting character dynamics that adds more depth to the cast and the world around them.


And as many other reviewers have so wisely commented on, another big theme of this movie is tradition vs. technology. The whole story is basically a big battle between the more traditional ways of the old Santa Claus with Grand Santa vs. the high-tech modern invention of the new Santa Claus with Steve and ultimately, it's a combination of both sides that leads to Gwen's present making it to her house. But while this is going on we have Arthur representing the middle ground between the two sides. He doesn't care what it takes just as long as the present gets there and ultimately, it's not about what you have or what you use, all that matters is if the task is completed at all. I feel that's a good lesson to take away from this movie and it should teach us not to be too set in our old ways but also not too reliant on technology. As long as you get about in life, it doesn't matter which way you go.


As this is a family-friendly Christmas movie, of course there's a lot of comedy here to keep the tone fun and enjoyable and believe me when I say this is a VERY funny movie. There's all kinds of humour you can find here and a lot of it is very effective thanks to good comedic timing, quirky dialogue and the delivery of the actor's lines. Then again this IS a British movie so no duh the humour is great. We Brits are practically kings of comedy. XD So needless to say, this is a movie I guarantee you'll have a good laugh at.


Like any story though, it isn't flawless and this one does have some pretty glaring ones that will either make or break it for you. It's pros make up for the cons in my case but they do still annoy me.


For starters, the conflict is so EASILY resolvable that the writers have to go out of their way to come up with ridiculous ways to cause the conflict to happen at all. All the film's problems can be blamed on ONE character, and that's Steve. Steve makes a big deal about how it can't be done and all that and yet come the end of the movie, HE SHOWS THAT IF HE GOT HIS ARROGANT HEAD OUT OF HIS ARSE, HE COULD'VE SOLVED THE WHOLE THING IN FIVE SECONDS FLAT!!!! The entire conflict was basically caused over nothing! The S-1 is such an overpowered story-breaking element that the film had to basically force itself not to just use it so we could have a story at all, but it comes at the cost of making everybody, especially Steve, look like a complete moron. What SHOULD have been the cause of the conflict in my eyes was the S-1 actually getting damaged and Steve doesn't think it can be repaired in time, thus necessitating Grand Santa's old sleigh. If they did that then Steve wouldn't look like a complete idiot and the S-1 wouldn't be able to solve the conflict too easily. The conflict would feel more natural and would get rid of some of the story's more annoying moments. As is, we have this forced as hell garbage and it does hinder the story a little for me.


Also the story has moments that feel completely pointless and didn't need to happen such as the elves thinking that the Santas are leaving and setting the base up to meltdown or how they mention at one point they lost 80% of their data during the blackout because the auto-save was off. They don't add anything to the story and nothing changes if you take those moments out of it. The first one feels like a forced excuse to create more conflict which it didn't need and the second one feels like a dumb joke that just doesn't work.


As is, the story is still a solid watch for me for its good points and I do still have a good time with Arthur Christmas in spite of its flaws. With its Christmas spirited tone, great humour, strong themes and large heart, it's easy to see why this has become a modern Christmas classic for many...


Section 2: The Characters


A good Christmas movie is only made better with a charming cast to give you some holiday cheer.


Let's start with the titular character, Arthur Claus (voiced by James McAvoy). As a socially awkward guy who can worry a lot myself, I related to him when watching this movie. Arthur is your typical clumsy, adorkable guy who has a large heart and wants to help but he plays the part well and he's the perfect middle ground for the tradition vs. technology theme. Arthur just wants the present to get to Gwen no matter what it takes and he fully comes to understand that Santa isn't just one guy, Santa can be ANYBODY and that all that mattes is that Santa delivered the present, it doesn't matter who is bearing the title at the time. He's a charming protagonist and I enjoy watching him whenever I put the movie on.


Accompanying him on his big journey is Grand Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy). He's one of the funniest characters in the movie with his old man charm and cranky personality and he gets a lot of the funniest lines too. I mean there's something darkly humourous about the fact he nearly started World War III when he tried to take Evie the Sleigh out again. XD He too has an arc in where he has to learn the world has moved on and things aren't how they used to be anymore and that there's more to this mission than just showing up Steve and his technology.


They also have an elf named Bryony (voiced by Ashley Jensen). She too is one of the funniest characters in the movie thanks to her eccentric personality and how crazy obsessed she is with wrapping up presents. Bryony is an effective comic relief but she also has some moments where she makes some strong points that really get the characters thinking, especially when she asks Arthur why HE'S the one who's out on this mission to deliver Gwen's present and not the actual Santa Claus. It shows she's got a good head on her shoulders at times and that she's not just about being the quirky comic relief.


And of course, there's the main man himself, Santa Claus, AKA Malcolm (voiced by Jim Broadbent). This is Santa Claus the 20th and he's a man who's been in the job far longer than he should've been. It's clear he needs to retire but the poor man loves his job so much that he doesn't want to give it up and feels he's nothing without the role of Santa to keep him going. He's quite absent-minded and tires easily but he means well and really tries his best despite him being technically clueless. I imagine many viewers, especially the elderly, can relate to him. I'm sure plenty of people throughout our lives have had that moment where they don't want to give up their job they love so much because they feel they'd have nothing else to them if they did.


Unfortunately, we must now cover the worst character in the movie, Steve Claus (voiced by Hugh Laurie). Steve is one of the most selfish, arrogant, stubborn and idiotic characters I've ever seen in a movie. Seriously, if I made a list of the biggest idiots in media, he'd crack the Top THREE easily! Steve's somehow got it into his head that he'll be the next Santa Claus and it's clearly he's not in it for the joy that the job brings to children, he's just in it for the title alone and couldn't care less about the children. The fact he only refers to them as numbers and treats them as a statistic and not as invididuals further proves my point. But as mentioned earlier, he proves that he can very easily solve the whole problem with missing Gwen's present in five seconds with his S-1...and he chooses not to. I get it, Steve's supposed to be so stubbornly prideful that he can't accept he made a mistake but the execution just falls flat because to me it doesn't feel like stubbornness or pride, it just feels like selfishness to the point of borderline stupidity to me. There's even a point where everyone's willing to help Arthur and point out that they can do so but the moment somebody says Arthur and Grand Santa will be the heroes of the day, he shoots down these perfectly valid points and wants them to come home.


And do you want to know what makes this worse? The movie has the gall to make it seem like he learns his lesson in the end! No movie, you can't pull that on me and call it "character development". Steve never acknowledges what he did was wrong, he never apologizes for causing all this to happen, he never acknowledges this is all his fault and he never apologizes to his father or his brother for treating them like crap this whole time and refusing to help because of his own stubborn, selfish pride. He didn't even help solve everything because he cares about Gwen or anything, he did it just so he could get Malcolm to stop messing with his ship. Steve didn't learn diddly squat so him deciding to "be the candle" doesn't feel earned in the end. If anyone didn't deserve a redemption by the story's conclusion, it was him. Steve can go choke on a holly bush for all I care.


Aside from that, there's not much else to cover with the cast. Mrs. Claus (voiced by Imedla Staunton) is the supportive waife to Malcolm, Gwen Hines (voiced by Romana Marquez) is the kid that our heroes have to deliver the present to and Peter (voiced by Marc Wotton) is just Steve's loyal today who's super gay for him. No I'm not making a joke here, he LITERALLY is gay for him.


With the exception of Steve, the characters are memorable, charming, have their own fun quirks and are overall a fun cast to carry the movie with. I guarantee you'll find a favourite or two amongst this lot...


Section 3: The Animation


It's unusual to see Aardman forgo its usual trademark claymation style but it does give this movie an interesting look.


Due to the fact this is an Aardman movie made in collaboration with Sony Pictures, we have computer animation bringing this to life but the art-style still feels very Aardman Animations with the small eyes, large noses and more cartoonish proportions that the characters are designed with here. I feel like the small eyes are a little distracting and it looks kinda silly how near enough every character in the movie has a large nose and small eyes but the designs don't bother me and I feel they still work overall. If anything, the designs kinda evoke a classic Christmas movie like the old Rankin Bass specials or something like that, so the artstyle does add to the charm of the movie.


The artstyle also carries over to the animals we see in the movie such as the reindeer in the North Pole or the animals of Africa during their visit to the country, which also adds to the feel of this being a family-friendly Christmas movie. It would've looked out of place if the humans had the cartoony look and the animals looked very realistic after all. They are at least rendered with realistic textures but they still have a more stylized look to them so they don't look odd next to the humans. Speaking of textures, they really do well on rendering the textures of everything here from the hair on the human's heads to the fur on the animals to the wood on the sleigh and so much more. Even the sand on the beach they visit at one point looks practically photo-realistic! The lighting effects don't look super realistic but they still make the textures look good and it makes the movie look a lot more polished as a result.


The character animation is very smooth and expressive too with a lot of personality displayed through the character's movements, facial expressions and body language. Even their small eyes manage to be rather expressive, which is pretty impressive and shows that expressive character animation can come about regardless of body proportions. A lot of the liviliest animation we get comes from the opening scene with the Christmas deliveries or during the chase and travel scenes. The scenes where Arthur and Grand Santa are causing havoc around the world especially make good use of speed and timing to make the situations look chaotic and like they're really getting themselves into trouble. The animals by comparison are more realistically animated but they can have some of their more animated movements too like when the lions are attacking the crew for instance.


And of course, I must bring up the creative technology depicted in this movie. The animation further brings to life this modern spin on the Santa Claus mythos with the North Pole being depicted as this giant military base with lots of ice and snow everywhere and the gadgets they use to carry out their Christmas delvieries. We see all sorts of gizmos in action like guns that fill up stockings, scanning devices to see who's naughty or nice, a biting gadget for getting the reindeer's carrots and so much more. It's just so cool seeing how they bring a modern, hi-tech twist to everything and the animators and storyboard artists clearly put a lot of thought into how these gadgets would work when planning the story out. The S-1 especially is a neat idea as this giant airship with a sleigh-like appearance and how the underbelly can camoflague it so it looks like the sky above, meaning nobody will ever see it. If Santa Claus is to make it in the modern world then this is how it would be carried out, no questions asked.


Also they managed to depict the real world locations perfectly here. We see many places from Toronto, Canada to the Serengeti National Park in Africa to the village of Mexico and more. The places look and feel like the real locations, which only further sells that they're travelling to these places. Though I must point out that the movie made a whoopsie here. You see, there's NO place called Trelew in Mexico whatsoever. There IS a Trelew in Argentina, but not Mexico so yeah, Arthur shouldn't have directed them to Mexico when he saw that list of Trelews and clicked on the first one. XD But that's nitpicking I admit, it's not like it harms the story any.


The animation is superb through-and-through and I feel Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation did a good job on bringing this movie to life. It's interesting to see Aardman do animated movies outside of their usual claymation style but one does have to wonder how this movie would've looked if it was done in their usual claymation style...


Overall


Arthur Christmas is 100% deserving of its status as a modern Christmas classic. Its story is charming and full of the Christmas spirit, it has a unique spin on the classic Santa mythos, the characters are full of charm, the voice cast are on-point, the comedy is hilarious and the animation is beautiful. If you haven't watched it yet, do yourself a favour and watch it. You won't regret it. It's a fun-filled, charming Christmas movie that'll put you in the festive spirit and have you feeling ready for the big holiday celebration itself. I wonder if Arthur and his friends will be the ones doing the deliveries this year...


And that's it for this movie. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to comment and share your thoughts down below. Do you like Arthur Christmas? Do you not like it? I'd like to hear all about it.


Next week we won't be having turkey for Christmas dinner. We'll be having chicken instead for we'll be tackling yet another Aardman Animation movie with its long overdue sequel to Chicken Run. See you then media fans!

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