By the end of my first time of watching “Arthur Christmas” in the cinema, I’d already welled up a couple of times and my excuse of having ‘something in my eye’ was starting to wear thin. Essentially the story of one child’s gift being missed on Christmas Eve, most of the action focusses on the complex dynamic of the Claus family, here reimagined as a benign hereditary monarchy.
What sets “Arthur Christmas” apart from similar films is the sheer cleverness and intricate attention to detail in creating a plausible and coherent world which accounts for virtually every aspect of the myth and legend of Santa Claus. From the ‘original’ sleigh through to the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ inspired S-1 and its control room of hundreds of elves, everything here feels well thought out and genuine. There’s a confidence at work here that whatever “ah, but…” question you might have about how Santa could possibly be real, this film will have a satisfying answer for. The hereditary nature of being Santa is inspired, and allows the story to encapsulate three generations of Santa (Past, present & future – Dickens again!) who each in turn have to confront what Christmas means to them and what’s really important. Stripped of the high-tech gadgets and gizmos, and focussing on a family dynasty, this might easily be what Shakespeare would have written had it possessed him to do a comedy about Christmas and St Nicholas.
The voice cast are superb here, especially James McAvoy’s boundlessly enthusiastic and optimistic Arthur while Hugh Laurie gives his brother Steven a sardonic, cynical air to counterbalance it. Jim Broadbent is Santa Claus and Bill Nighy rounds out the Claus men as the curmudgeonly old Grand-Santa while Ashley Jensen is a spunky and energetic sidekick as Bryony the Elf, who inadvertently accompanies Arthur and Grand-Santa on their adventure. As if that cast weren’t enough of a festive feast, there’s also Imelda Staunton as Mrs Claus and a whole host of celebrities cameos. See if you can spot: Michael Palin, Marc Woottton, Eva Longoria, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Jane Horrocks, Andy Serkis, Dominic West or Laura Linney!
The pacing and plot of the film are spot on and it zips along without ever sagging, even when it goes through the inevitable ‘all-is-lost’ moment. There are so many delightful and clever touches in “Arthur Christmas” that it rewards repeated viewings because you’ll never catch everything in one go. There’s something about this film that reaches back in time to my eight-year-old self and completely captivates and delights him. It’s just such a well-crafted world in which to have our adventure that it propels the gentle and uncomplicated story into the realm of the utterly magical.
A wonderful, warm mix of comedy, cleverness and feel-good festivity, “Arthur Christmas” is easily the best family Christmas film of the 21st Century. The fact that it slightly underperformed at the box office is both baffling and a blessing. Baffling, because this really is a superbly crafted piece of family entertainment with a great story, cast and design and a blessing because the lack of a box office bonanza will protect “Arthur Christmas” from being cheapened and reduced by a slew of unnecessary sequels. This is a film which can only grow more appreciated as its discovered on DVD or TV by the people who missed it at the cinema. It’s a triumph.