Aardman’s Clay: Shaun the Sheep Movie Review

Plot: Tired of the monotony of life on the farm, Shaun and his fellow sheep concoct a plan to have a nice day off with their farmer being none the wiser. When their little stunt ends up sending their farmer to the big city with a case of amnesia, Shaun, Bitzer the dog, and the other sheep head off to bring him back while doing everything they can to avoid the malicious animal control officer.

Breakdown: I’m extremely unfamiliar with Shaun the Sheep. I’ve never seen the TV series or the shorts and I’m only barely familiar with Wallace and Gromit, the show from which Shaun is based. I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

First thing you’ll note about this movie is that it is entirely dialogue-free. The animals don’t talk and the human characters ‘speak’ in intelligible murmurs. From my understanding, this is the same way in the TV series, but that decision was made for practical purposes. They didn’t have to keep it silent in the movie because they had the budget for it, but they decided to keep it silent for the sake of not disappointing people who were used to the TV show’s format. I greatly applaud this decision, even though I don’t know of the show myself. I think this movie works perfectly well silently. Dialogue would have tainted its charm quite a bit, if you ask me.

The models and animation are all very well done. Some really high-quality stop-motion work by Aardman yet again. I really like that all of the sheep have actual wool (cotton, I guess) on them instead of molding the clay to look like wool. The hair and clothes also look real and move well within their environments. The expressions and movements are well animated without being too over the top, which is key in a movie that relies solely on visual gags and slapstick.

The soundtrack was also very nice. There were many really catchy and fitting tracks that I greatly enjoyed.

The story is probably the only semi-weak part of the movie. The general beats are very predictable, and I was predicting the smaller beats very easily too. However, that’s not really a problem with this type of movie. You don’t really need some overly complex, groundbreaking or hard-hitting narrative to make an enjoyable movie. The story is simple, but the characters, gags and even the emotional moments make up for it in spades.

I loved the relationships between all of the characters, especially between Bitzer/Shaun, Shaun/Timmy (the baby lamb) and the farmer and the animals. Even though Bitzer and Shaun are kinda at odds with each other, they do hold a mutual respect for one another and work well together. Shaun in his big brother role with Timmy was adorable. And the farmer being a father figure to all of the animals was really sweet. The first thing he did when he regained his memory was give Bitzer and Shaun kisses on the foreheads, and that just warmed my heart.

I will say the animal control officer, Trumper, is the one aspect that kinda fell flat with me. He started out as just a normal animal control officer who took pride in his job, and I was pretty cool with that. A lot of family movies with animal main characters tended to make the animal control officer this ridiculously evil guy who despised animals and had some huge vendetta against the main cast, so just seeing a normal guy doing his job was refreshing.

That didn’t last long.

He went from fairly normal to the typical crazed chase scene starter quite quickly. The first red flag was him kicking down a sign for the pound’s adopt-a-pet day, which is quite confusing. He hates these animals, but he doesn’t want them to get adopted? That would mean he hates them so much that he wants to see them all rot in this place and never find happy homes, which is quite disturbing.

Next, he just decides to walk down the corridor of the animal cages purely to mock them. He walks by Shaun and starts mockingly ‘baa’-ing at him. Then he visits the stray dog, Slip, who is just minding his business eating his food. Trumper starts mocking the way he eats and even starts sloppily munching on chips in front of him to mock him further. Like, dude, get a life.

After that, he continues to go off the rails until he’s a full-on lunatic bordering on supervillain. He’s gearing up in special animal-catching gadgets and doing everything he can to catch these sheep. You’d think he’d stop chasing them once they reach the farm, but no. He’s so intent on getting these sheep that, even back on the farm and holed up in a shed, the guy still won’t stop and even intends on KILLING THEM. He picks up the shed with a tractor and drives it to a quarry to dump it in and kill them all. He does get his comeuppance in the end, of course, but wow.

Overall, this was a very fun movie that had me smiling consistently and even laughing out loud on more than one occasion. There are plenty of funny visuals gags and physical comedy to give anyone a giggle. It also got to me a little with the emotional bits. When Shaun finds the farmer, but he shoos him away because he doesn’t remember him, I felt so bad for Shaun, Bitzer and the others. Especially considering that, for a while, they didn’t understand that he had amnesia. They just thought he straight-up hated them.

I’m really looking forward to checking out the sequel, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon, later on, and maybe I’ll even see if I can check out the TV series.


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Aardman’s Clay: The Pirates! Band of Misfits/In an Adventure with Scientists

Rating: 7/10

Plot: The Pirate Captain is a bit of a bumbling chap. While he adores life on the seas with his crew and all of the adventures they have, he’s not the best at his job. He yearns to be Pirate of the Year, but he’s considered a joke among the other pirates in the community. While trying to attack more ships to gain a better reputation, he comes upon the research ship of Charles Darwin, who is incredibly interested in the captain’s beloved ‘parrot’ Polly. Turns out, she’s actually an extremely rare dodo bird – last of its kind.

Charles wants the bird to be world-renowned in the world of science (and be successful enough to get a girlfriend) and the Pirate Captain believes presenting the bird will make him a lot of money and give him recognition. He won’t give Polly over since she’s one of the family, but when the world sees you as a loser, you’re sometimes willing to sacrifice family for a taste of fame and respect.

Breakdown: This is the first time Aardman has really failed to engage me as well as it usually does.

That’s not to say The Pirates! is a bad movie in the slightest, it’s just rather predictable and a little blah for Aardman. After about the first 15 minutes, I knew almost exactly where the movie would go beat by beat. The only thing that caught me a little off-guard was the climax but only because I didn’t think people would be so stupid as have a competition to see who can find the rarest animal to cook and eat – and that the royal figures of the world were the ones holding it.

Cleverness abounds with the jokes. Aardman is never really a disappointment there. I especially enjoyed every shot with Mr. Bobo, Darwin’s mute monkey assistant who speaks in flashcards. And I did enjoy the relationship between The Pirate Captain and his first mate, Number 2 (Hardly anyone has an actual name)

I just can’t see myself wanting to watch this again anytime soon. It never clicked me on that level of pure enjoyment. It was especially a chore to watch them go undercover to present Polly to the scientist award committee and Captain try to pretend everything’s fine at the Pirate of the Year awards. We just got done with a movie with similar themes, and I don’t much care for it in the first place.

I also had to roll my eyes because, of course, the one prominent female pirate is a flirty sexpot that everyone wants to get with. She’s not a big part of the movie, but it still irked me.

(And, yes, I’m aware of the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate.)

In regards to the art and animation, I love the way they melded regular stop-motion with CG. It flowed extremely well, and some of the shots on the sea were quite beautiful. The character models are better than usual because they don’t fall into the ‘I’m always showing all of my giant teeth at all times’ habit they were wrapped up in for a long time. The style as a whole is different, if only slightly, and it’s a bit of a nice breath of fresh air.

The music is slightly out of place sometimes. The score is usually fairly good, but then they insert modern songs and it feels off. They’re not pop songs, but they still don’t fit that well, in my opinion.

All in all, this is a fun movie and I think everyone should give it at least one watch, but it’s not Aardman’s A game.

Recommended Audience: There is mild violence, these are pirates afterall, some dark themes like implied torture and execution. No nudity or sex, but a couple of very mild swears. 10+


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Aardman’s Clay: Flushed Away (2006) Review

Rating: 7.5/10

Plot: Roddy the rat seemingly lives the high life. He has a mansion of a cage in his mansion of a house, he eats well, pampers himself and never misses an opportunity to have some fun. The one problem is that he is terribly lonely. When his owner isn’t around, he pretends that he has a lavish social life, but ultimately realizes that he’s all alone most of the time.

A sewer rat named Sid suddenly invades his house through the pipes. He’s loud, gross and forcibly makes himself at home while simultaneously destroying the house. While Roddy is lonely, he’s not lonely enough to want him for company, so he tries to trick him back into the sewer through the toilet only to be knocked into the bowl and flushed away by Sid.

Now lost in a sewer, Roddy finds himself in a massive underground city for rats. He wants nothing more than to get back home, and in his efforts to do so he meets Rita, a rough and tumble rat who is being harassed by The Toad, who wants to steal her father’s precious ruby. However, he has much more nefarious plans outside of a little ruby.

Breakdown: Flushed Away tends to get shit on a lot. That’s my lone potty humor joke of the review. I’m sorry.

However, I have noticed that most of the time when this movie gets slighted, it’s in passing. Some reviewer will bring this movie up randomly as being terrible when talking about something else. Because of that, I was dreading this review. However, I realized that I’ve never bothered to go and read a full review of this movie, which I didn’t bother to do until I had nearly finished the movie because I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I expected, so I was wondering why the movie got such a bad rep.

What I found was mixed but mostly positive, with the main issue the reviewers were having with the movie being the exact same one I had.

I’d almost believe this movie was a punchline for many people based solely on the main plot and the title yet didn’t actually watch this movie or give it a chance.

Let me start off with the positive. The humor in this movie is top-notch. Despite the title, there’s very little in regards to toilet humor, and so many of the gags, even the running ones, work so well that I found myself laughing out loud numerous times, which is a difficult goal to accomplish with me.

I particularly enjoyed the running gag of the slugs, which easily could’ve been one of the most annoying things in this movie, but were hilarious every time they were on screen. I also loved the legion of frogs under Le Frog’s command. The mime frog in particular was a riot.

There are some groan-worthy jokes, and some slightly offensive-ish jokes like the French frogs immediately surrendering or the American rat being gross and rowdy, not understanding that the World Cup is soccer, not American football, but these were few and far between.

Also, despite the fact that Aardman switched to a CGI format for this movie, it still very clearly holds the traditional Aardman claymation aesthetics. And yes, you get the unreasonably large always-grinning mouths. The animation really doesn’t suffer due to this change of format, in fact, it kinda benefits in the area of freedom of movement, and considering the massive world they had to animate, plus the added complication of water, I fully understand why they went this route. Plus, with movies like Arthur Christmas under their belt now, we know that Aardman definitely has talent in the CGI world.

The voice work was also quite good with Hugh Jackman voicing Roddy, Kate Winslet voicing Rita and Ian McKellen voicing The Toad.

Now onto the negatives. While the villain characters had their funny quirks, the protagonists are rather cut and dry.

You have Roddy, our main lead, who is basically any fish out of water (or rat out of cage?) story. He’s miserable in his current life, is thrown into a new one that he initially dislikes, he longs to go home but his adventure getting back shows him that a life in the other place is much better and chooses to live there forever.

Reviewers kept bringing up that Roddy was meant to be parodying James Bond, and, I’m sorry, I don’t get it. He does dress up in a tuxedo, briefly parody James Bond and watch a spy movie at the start, but that’s it. Outside of having a villain to fight and going on an action adventure, there’s nothing else to imply a connection to James Bond.

Then you have Rita, the ‘I’m defying gender stereotypes’ clear love interest. She does more to move the plot along than Roddy does, and she’s kinda badass, but she doesn’t do much to differentiate herself from a trope that, ironically, is trying to escape a trope.

Being fair, neither character is unlikable in the slightest, which is an easy pitfall for characters like this. Rita starts out as a bit abrasive, and Roddy has his selfish and kinda jerkish moments, but these are usually justified in some way.

Sid is somehow turned into a good guy out of nowhere in the third act, even though he started as one of the grossest, dumbest, rowdiest dill holes I’ve ever seen. Also, he tried to kill Roddy in the first act, so what the hell?

The weakest area of this movie, however, is in the story. It’s just….not all that good. It’s boringly cliché at best and stupid at worst. This is definitely one of those movies that’s good because of its parts not the sum of its whole.

While we have a ton of great quick gags that more than make the movie worth watching, as well as a bunch of action that is fun to watch, when the movie slows down and reminds you of the plot, it loses your attention badly. The plot with Roddy is so predictable it practically hurts. Just by reading the synopsis, you can tell EXACTLY what will happen.

The one facet of his story that I was wondering about is if he’d really be willing to leave his owner, because even though we only get little snippets of his owner, a little girl named Tabitha, she takes great care of him and seems to love him a lot. I’d feel bad for her knowing Roddy would just up and leave her for a life in the sewers.

This is where Sid comes in because after he suddenly heel turns in the third act, Roddy leaves him to be Tabitha’s new pet. Sid promises he’ll be good to her, but you can’t trust this guy. He tried to kill Roddy earlier. He also basically destroyed the house by making a massive mess. Not to mention, this is a damn sewer rat. A filthy, stinky, fat sewer rat.

Do you honestly believe 1) She’d be fooled into thinking this is Roddy? (Spoiler alert: She is, somehow. So either she’s an idiot (she even ignores the massive mess around him) or she really cares so little about Roddy that she can’t tell him apart from any other rat, which doesn’t mesh from what little we know about her.)

2) If she doesn’t, that she’d be cool with losing Roddy forever and just adopting this new rat?

And 3) that her rich, pristine parents or even Tabitha herself would be cool with her adopting a disgusting, smelly sewer rat that infiltrated their house while they were away?

He does kinda get comeuppance in the end, but eh. I’m quite certain nothing actually bad would happen to him, but….again, eh.

On the…I guess we’ll call it the ‘James Bond’ plot, we have a story that’s both kinda dark and silly/immature at the same time.

The main villain here is The Toad, and I’m not being lazy, that’s his name. His big plan is to commit genocide against all the rats in the city by opening the sewer flood gates during half time of the World Cup, which is when thousands of people will all flush at the same time. All of the rats will drown in a tidal wave of piss water while the frogs and toads take over the city and he can repopulate with a massive collection of tadpoles that he…somehow created by himself?

See what I meant about being dark but also really silly/immature? Roddy and Rita got tangled in this mess when they both got captured by his men in an effort to retrieve a ruby Rita’s father passed down to her. The Toad believed it was his, she stole it back, so he hunted her down and took it back. In their escape from The Toad, they steal the master cable, which is necessary for this plan to work, so then he starts chasing them for that.

I will mention that, while the ruby is ultimately not very important to the overall plot, it did lead to the one story element that actually surprised me a good deal, but I won’t spoil it.

Overall, this movie is a truckload of really good gags with a decent amount of solid action piled on top of two stories that just don’t hold up very well. It could be a lot worse, it’s more like all the good stuff is sitting on cheap plywood more than wet toilet paper, but I was certainly waiting for the next gag to come along whenever the plot started to slow down. The first act in particular was a bit of a chore to get through.

Not to mention, they felt the need to include a small bit where Roddy lies about his situation to Rita and tries to pretend his life is fine, which was painful to watch for all the wrong reasons. I truly, sincerely hate awkwardness and lying plotlines. They never cease to suck all of the enjoyment out of a scene or movie. Luckily, this was shortlived.

There were some serious moments that I thought were really good, like Roddy being so happy that there was someone else to say ‘goodnight’ back to him that he kept saying it over and over to Rita, and Roddy making good on his promise to give Rita not only a ruby but also an emerald to help replace something she lost.

This is also one of those movies that I imagine would get better on repeat viewings due to little background jokes you might have missed the first time out.

Also, very minor, but I hate that this is one of those movies that ends on a dance party. That friggin’ trope needs to die.

Recommended Audience: While there is some potty humor here and there, it doesn’t fare nearly as badly as you might expect from the title. There’s some kinda dark humor and mild violence, but nothing terrible. I was actually somewhat insulted that this movie essentially got a free pass by Common Sense Media for being kinda crass, yet a fun, good kids movie when they absolutely trashed Monster House. Ya know, the movie that doesn’t include a plot about goddamn genocide by piss water. Fairness is fun. 6+

Images courtesy of AnimationScreencaps.com.

Final Notes: Supposedly, Dreamworks meddled a lot with this movie after the US failure of Wallace and Gromit. Aardman is a company that works best when left to their own devices, and even though the details of what exactly went on behind the scenes, the tension between the companies was enough for this movie to be their final venture with each other. Aardman left Dreamworks and never looked back.

Aardman had a brief relationship with Sony Pictures Animation, but have been bouncing between studios for newer projects since 2012.

Aardman’s Clay: Wallace and Gromit – Curse of the Were-Rabbit Review

Rating: 8/10

Plot: Wallace and his dog, Gromit, live in a town where vegetables are everything. They live to grow, care for, eat, and display their veggies, all building up to an annual vegetable competition. Wallace and Gromit run an anti-pest (though mostly bunny) company that humanely captures pests and protects the vegetables of the town.

One night, Wallace gets the idea to stop the bunny plague once and for all by using a mind-altering device to eliminate obsessive thoughts about veggies from their minds. It seems to work, but, in the process, they created a monster….a veggie destroying were-rabbit.

Breakdown: Okay, so yes, the plot does sound very silly, but it’s supposed to.

This was my first ever venture into the Wallace and Gromit series. I’ve heard about it several times in the past, but never actually watched the movie, TV series or played the game….Even though I have the game (from a Humble Bundle).

Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a very entertaining and fun movie that, while not making me bust a gut, did have me smiling and laughing out loud numerous times. It has a very unique style and sense of humor that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if some things about the movie irked me.

For example, I think Gromit deserved a bit more of a hurrah for all the stuff he did over the course of the movie, which is damn near everything. While Wallace is certainly useful as an inventor and bunny catcher, there’s no denying that Gromit does a hell of a lot more in this movie. In addition to being the only one who is effective against the were-rabbit, he also basically waits on Wallace hand and foot with Wallace only barely giving Gromit his props here and there. Not to mention it was Wallace’s invention that started the were-rabbit fiasco in the first place.

Also, I get that he had good intentions, but if the rabbits stopped being a problem, wouldn’t they be out of a job?

The overall unraveling of events were fairly predictable. I knew from the instant they used that machine what the ‘plot twist’ would be.

Ending spoilers. Finally, they give no explanation as to why Wallace turns back at the end. He saves Gromit from falling to his death, turns back into a human and the curse just seems to go away. He didn’t get shot with the golden carrot, so I just have no clue how or why Wallace was cured of this problem…..because he ‘died’ and was seemingly revived by the smell of cheese?….If so, that is really dumb.

End of spoilers.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie and I look forward to playing the game seeing as how I’ve had it on Steam for like three years and never got around to playing it. *cough*

Recommended Audience: There is quite a bit if innuendo, though some of it might be my filthy mind playing tricks on me. Like that scene where Totty is showing Wallace her giant carrot. Dear God, the things she says can easily be turned into dirty talk. Other than that, though, really nothing to bother with. 6+

Aardman’s Clay: Chicken Run

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Rating: 8.5/10

Plot: Ginger is one of many chickens in Mrs. Tweedy’s chicken farm, and she’s also the one leading a mass effort to break out of the place. With their lives amounting to nothing but laying eggs and suffering from a swift blow by an ax when the eggs stop being produced, they are desperate to escape by any means necessary. However, every escape effort made by Ginger and the chickens has been met with failure.

When hope seems to be at its dimmest, their salvation falls from the sky. Literally. A rooster named Rocky flies into the farm and subsequently crashes. With a poster revealing Rocky as an amazing flying rooster, Ginger recruits him to teach them all how to fly and escape in exchange for hiding him from the circus that he belongs to. Rocky agrees, but seems to be hiding something. And with Mrs. Tweedy’s new chicken pot pie making machine arriving on their doorstep, they have no time for secrets or failures.

Breakdown: Once upon a time, Dreamworks had a sexy love affair with Aardman animations, also known as ‘oh yeah that claymation studio’. Like all good relationships, this one started out steamy and ended in a toilet…..but more on that another day. The main point of this is Chicken Run.

Chicken Run was Aardman’s first ever feature length film after many years of doing short films. Aardman is indeed ‘that claymation studio’ as they pretty much have the market cornered in keeping that style alive. You may know them from Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and even Arthur Christmas.

Aardman clearly seems to have more creative control on this project that Dreamworks did. Other than the logo in the beginning, I can’t really feel anything Dreamworks-y here. That will change down the line, but again we’ll talk about that later on.

Chicken Run, at its base, is kinda predictable but mostly in regards to what I feel is the weakest part of the film, Rocky.

It is painfully obvious from the getgo that Rocky is hiding something, and even more obvious that he’s hiding the fact that he can’t actually fly. Much of the running time is somewhat awkward as you subconsciously tick down that clock in your head that will eventually reach ‘when the shit hits the fan’. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I hate when shows and movies do this. I don’t want to feel awkward while watching a movie. I don’t want to sit there twiddling my thumbs waiting for the big devastating ‘secret’ to come out in the open. It’s not entertaining to me.

Luckily, the way they handled it with Rocky wasn’t too bad….but then you have Rocky himself. Rocky is a very…if you’ll forgive the pun, cocky guy. And he’s the lone handsome American in a group of English girls (and one old rooster…and one Scottish hen) so of course the girls all fawn over him except for Ginger who is way more concerned with getting out of there, which leads the two to bicker and have weird sexual chicken tension. They even do the bit where he calls her by cute and semi-psuedo-ish sexist nicknames like dollface while she constantly corrects him that her name is Ginger.

All that said, I watched this movie when it first came out and I remember not being all that impressed with it. However, on the rewatch, I got plenty of laughs and entertainment out of it. Barring the cliché plotline with the deceit and cliché character relationship between the two leads, it’s still a very solid movie.

While Rocky does seem like he’s going to be the one to end up saving the day in the end, and they even have an almost eye-rolling scene involving Rocky saving Ginger while they both yell each other’s name in slow motion, it’s still Ginger’s idea that comes out on top and Ginger as the final hero. Ginger is very likable in that she seems to be the only one around with real sense and determination. She is a true leader to her friends, and while she honestly could get away from the farm on her own, she refuses to do so even under threat of death because she won’t abandon her friends.

The setting of the chicken farm is pretty unique, even if it is masking for a prison break movie. Most of the characters, large and small, are pretty memorable and funny. Babs in particular is funny purely because, no matter what they’re doing, she won’t put down her damn knitting needles. Also, there are egg-obsessed rats who are contracted out to get supplies for the girls and oddly enough they seem to be based on Statler and Waldorf as they make snarky commentary over everything the chickens do to escape.

Mrs. and Mr. Tweedy are a bit too super-villainy for my taste, but they also get some great scenes and have a good dynamic. Mrs. Tweedy is a greedy evil bitch who is so emotionally detached from….everything, she even calls her husband ‘Mr. Tweedy.’ Speaking of Mr. Tweedy, he is the only one who realizes that the chickens are smart and organized, yet his wife continues to simply call him crazy. He’s the bumbling oaf, she’s the evil mastermind.

I also don’t really understand their plan. They don’t seem to be making enough money selling eggs, so they buy a really overly-complicated chicken pot pie making machine to turn their chickens into pies and get rich off of selling the pies. Okay….well, what happens when you run out chickens? You’d have to buy more chickens. And you have to have a constant supply of vegetables, pie crusts and gravy not to mention how much money it probably costs to run the machine. I’d bet by the time they processed their last chicken they probably would only barely cover the initial costs of the machine.

Then, spoiler alert for the ending, she sees that the chickens are indeed intelligent, organized and have built a giant mechanical bird to fly out of the farm (this is the second movie I’ve seen involving a bunch of oppressed animals building an operational mechanical bird…) yet she’s still obsessed with killing them instead of….I dunno, selling them to the circus that came by earlier. Or putting on her own show. I’d think an intelligent chicken who can build complicated aeronautics is more of a ticket seller than a chicken who is shot out of a cannon. End of spoilers.

I will admit that I’m not a fan of claymation/stop-motion. I respect the living hell out of claymation animators because it is just so painstaking, slow and frustrating to work in this style, but it just doesn’t typically work for me, outside of movies and shorts that are intentionally driven for creepiness and horror. Something about it is…., well, creepy to me. That said, this is a very well-made film. Aardman does some fantastic art and animation work that really draw you into their world with some incredible details. I think the teeth and constant open mouths on the chickens was a bit off-putting, but nothing that bad.

In regards to voice acting, everyone did a great job. They did a wonderful job making these characters real for me…..though, again, Rocky is kinda the exception. Rocky is voiced by Mel Gibson, and I can’t separate the two. Mel Gibson does not have range. He just doesn’t. And every voice acting role he takes is just Mel Gibson talking through whatever animated mouthpiece he’s given. He acts perfectly fine, but I just can’t not hear Mel Gibson.

Bottomline: Chicken Run is a great movie with some fantastic characters, wonderful comedic timing and slapstick, and a fun little prison break adventure. It’s not full-on comedy as some moments get pretty damn real, but it is still a movie that achieved in making me actually laugh out loud several times. The two tones work well together, and I found it to be a fantastic ride.

Recommended Audience: While there’s nothing graphic, there is a lot of talk of slaughtering chickens, and one chicken sees the business end of an ax during the movie. They obviously don’t show the scene full out, but you see the silhouette of the ax being raised and then the sound of it hitting the chopping block. There’s also a slight gore fake out at the end. Other than the downright depressing mood that this movie can bring about, there’s nothing else of note. 7+

AVAHS – Arthur Christmas

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Rating: 9.5/10

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!