Plot: We all know that Santa delivers presents to all the little girls and boys at Christmas, but what really goes on at the North Pole? ‘Santa’ is actually more of an inherited title than it is one singular person. Generation through generation, new Santas take the helm of the sleigh, and it’s nearing the time for a tech-savvy calculating man named Steve to finally take the reins. Figuratively speaking, of course, since Steve has turned the North Pole into an ultra-high-tech hub for Christmas preparation, and the old sleigh has been replaced with an equally high-tech air ship named the S-1.
Steve’s little brother, Arthur, works in the letters department and loves nothing more than any and all things Christmas. He greatly admires his father, the current Santa, and he also strongly believes in his brother to become the next Santa.
His faith starts to waiver, however, when the ultra-efficient Steve somehow misses a girl named Gwen. He tries to convince both his brother and father to go back and deliver her present, but they decide against it, leaving Gwen in the ‘margin of error.’ Arthur won’t accept that, and is recruited by his grandfather, the grandsanta, to take his old sleigh and reindeer out to deliver the present themselves, accompanied by an energetic wrapping elf named Bryony. Can they manage to deliver the present on time, or will one little girl end up thinking that she’s the one kid Santa forgot?
Breakdown: Alright, now we’re talkin’ newer holiday traditions. Ever since I first watched this movie several years ago, I have watched it every Christmas. It is one of the very few newer Christmas movies that manages to fill me with the Christmas spirit.
Arthur Christmas introduces an interesting concept behind Christmas. Instead of Santa being one immortal being with woodworking elves, a sleigh and reindeer, it is a title that is passed through the generations (and is kinda magic considering they seem to live much longer than normal people) with a high-tech command center directing thousands of elves to deliver presents in whole towns at a time…..And Santa maybe puts down a present or two.
Like Steve mentions, the current Santa, whose real name is Malcolm, is more of a figurehead than anything. He loves the title, he enjoys being loved by the children of the world and he enjoys the fame brought on by the elves, but he does little to nothing besides go through the motions. Steve and the many elves in the North Pole handle quite literally everything. From monitoring the children to ensure they don’t wake, to delivering the presents to going through complicated maneuvers to prevent alerting dogs or setting off alarms, and even piloting the S-1. Like I said, Santa is basically escorted into like one house per town, does nothing, then when they’re about to leave, they let him set down a gift.
Steve is all set and ready to rumble for the job of Santa, and he seems more than qualified given everything he does, but he’s also not anymore fit for the job than Malcolm because he doesn’t seem to care about kids at all and sees Santa as a glorified title above all else.
Arthur is more than content working in the letters department. He loves reading the letters from the various children of the world and responding back to them. His office is like a giant shrine to all things Christmassy and Santa. I really appreciate that they didn’t have him be some bitter character who, despite loving Christmas and seeing the meaning of Christmas far beyond any of the living Santas, is angry about not being offered the job of Santa despite being a Claus. They could’ve easily gone down that route, but they didn’t.
Arthur is a lovable Christmas dork, and he is my kindred spirit. I love everything about Christmas. Let me loose in any store with Christmas decorations and clothes and whatnot and, if I had it my way, you wouldn’t see me until closing. And you bet I’d wear they hell out of Arthur’s cute little light-up singing reindeer slippers.
There is a lot to love about Arthur, especially in how he’s willing to brave every frightening aspect of this journey to make sure Gwen didn’t feel left out on Christmas. And there’s a lot to worry about with him. He’s a worrier as it is, but he’s also fairly clumsy and doesn’t understand a lot of the mechanics of both the old and new Santa devices. It does not help that he’s accompanied by Grandsanta, who is equal parts crazy and absentminded. There’s a plot twist with his character that I never saw coming, and I think it works very well in the flow of the story. Let’s just say that forgetting the true meaning of Christmas didn’t start with Malcolm.
The fact that Arthur basically lives in a delusion, believing just as much in the fantasy version of Santa as most children on earth, leaves you worrying as well. You know the poor guy’s going to have his whole world crash around him eventually, and you’re just sitting there getting more and more anxious the closer he gets to the truth. It is almost as painful as watching someone tell a little kid that Santa doesn’t exist. (Spoiler alert) When that plot twist with Grandsanta is revealed, it’s the first big blow to his belief system since he believed Grandsanta was the only one who wanted to uphold the old traditions and keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
He also has Bryony with him, a female elf who is a wrapping extraordinaire and can wrap any present with three pieces of sticky tape. Despite just being a wrapping elf, she is extremely skilled and knowledgeable as a field elf who helps Arthur along the way. She gets a ton of great lines in both her quirkiness and her whimsical bluntness. I loved her, especially her punk rock character design.
I will admit, you can see where a good chunk of the movie is going from the get-go, and I didn’t much care for the ‘alien’ sub-plot with the government. I mean, I guess it adds to the gravity of the situation, but it’s mostly treated as a joke (Plus, a wooden painted air craft with people singing Christmas carols saying they come in peace, shooting oranges and chocolates is blown up with a missile and they’re all proud of themselves) But the story adds plenty of its own originality and writing to the table to keep you more than entertained throughout the whole movie.
This movie was a product of Aardman Animations. Yup, the claymation Aardman. Except here they’re bringing claymation style to full CGI animation. And it works incredibly well. While I have my problems with the facial designs, for the love of eggnog, who cares? The details are gorgeous. From the hairs on their heads, to the stitches of Arthur’s sweater (even including those little furry hairs some wool sweaters have) to the cities and vehicles and houses, it’s just amazing. This is the second time that Aardman has done a full CGI feature (Flushed Away being their first – co-produced by Dreamworks), and they definitely prove without a shadow of a doubt that they can maintain their talents throughout the mediums.
It is especially prominent in the characters themselves. While I’m not fan of claymation, I have always greatly respected how much tender loving care Aardman puts into their character work to make them seem not only alive but like they’re truly people who exist. Arthur Christmas is definitely no exception. All of the characters look, move and sound like they’re real people (okay, they don’t look realistic in regards to looking like you and me, but they look like actual living beings). Those looks on Arthur’s face when he thinks about Gwen getting her present are just beautiful.
They also interact with each other and their environments like real people. They definitely feel like a real family with familiar family problems and squabbles as well as the love and respect that is sometimes covered by those issues.
I even loved how they interacted with the elves. I feel a bit worse for the elves this time around because elves get little respect and love by the children during Christmas as it is considering they do all the work of making the toys and doing whatever else needs to be done during the rest of the year yet Santa delivers the gifts and gets all the glory. It’s like giving the UPS guy a holiday. Here, not only do the elves do all the background work like making the gifts and wrapping them etc. but they do most of the delivering too; yet they still have to live in the ever darkening shadow of a Santa who does little to nothing.
And then, like Arthur, they don’t seem to care. They just want Christmas to go perfectly for all the kids of the world. And, like Arthur, they are completely appalled when they find out that not only Santa forgot a kid, but they also aren’t going to go back to deliver the present. While it’s obvious that none of the Santas really respect the elves at all (Grandsanta’s treatment of them, Bryony included, is most terrible), it’s also apparent that they respect how they see them, much like how they respect how the majority of the children of the world see Santa. It’s only when the elves express how horrible it is that a child has been missed that the current Santa even tries to do anything about it.
Since Arthur is basically an elf himself, he is friends with most of them, despite knowing that some of them mock him behind his back for being so dorky and clumsy. I legitimately had a pang in my heart when I saw them cheering on Arthur through a video feed. They also just care about keeping up the magic of Christmas and Santa to the children, and Arthur’s the hero they need for the job.
If I’ve gushed enough, this movie has some flaws, but it is a phenomenal Christmas movie and just a fantastic movie period. I watch it every year, and I may watch it again before the holidays are over. And this is coming from someone who never believed in Santa. If you need a holiday pickup, this is one of the more recent movies to bring that warm Christmassy feeling, and maybe a little magic, to your heart.
Recommended Audience: E for everyone!