Directed by: Sarah Smith
Premise: An animated film about the Santa Claus myth in which the role of Santa is past from father to son in the Claus family. The current Santa’s eldest son has introduced advanced technology to the delivery process and is poised to take over. But when one child is missed, the bumbling but earnest younger son and his grandfather must make the delivery.
What Works: Christmas films are a bit like romances in that they have a tendency to be gooey and sentimental. Like the love affair of a romance, the emotions of these films are often forced; rather than springing out of the plot and the interaction between the characters, filmmakers often use cheap cinematic techniques to exploit viewers’ emotional reactions. Fortunately, Arthur Christmas is a much better film than that. It is very entertaining, has characters that are very human, and it actually has something intelligent to say about the Christmas holiday. The better entries in the Christmas film genre challenge the romanticism that lesser pictures take for granted, even if they ultimately affirm the values of the holiday. Pictures like A Christmas Story play on the common experiences of the season and that picture has been embraced by audiences because it is perceived as getting at some truth about the holiday experience. Arthur Christmas does something similar but in a fantastical scenario. Although Arthur Christmas is ostensibly about the Christmas holiday, it is also a story about a family business and ultimately a tale about the bonds between fathers and sons. This film tells the story of an idealistic young man who is caught up in the spirit of the season and the journey that the film sets him on effectively challenges Arthur’s faith in the integrity of the holiday and by extension his relationship with his family. By tying the Christmas holiday into generational conflicts and a business story, Arthur Christmas manages to make some interesting observations about the effects of materialism on the season. At its best, Arthur Christmas explores the place between childhood and adulthood where the Christmas experience shifts from starry-eyed wonder to onerous obligation.
What Doesn’t: The look of the animation in Arthur Christmas tends toward the cartoonish. Although the visuals are not bad, the style works against the realism that the film is aiming for. It is hard to take Arthur Christmas seriously when parts of it have the visual style of a Loony Toons cartoon. This effect is felt most heavily in the character of Arthur, who is an obnoxious character in the first third of the film. It also impacts some of the adventures Arthur and his grandfather experience on their trip. A few of these set pieces feel like padding to extend the film to a feature length.
Bottom Line: Arthur Christmas is a good film. It is sure to entertain children but it may be a pleasant surprise for some adults who will find the story a meaningful tale about growing up.
Episode: #367 (December 11, 2011)