Tuesday, December 16, 2014

#1,583. Arthur Christmas (2011) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook

Starring: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy

Tag line: "All elf breaks loose"

Trivia: First announced in 2007 under the title Operation Rudolph

One of the most common Holiday-related questions kids ask is “How can only one man (i.e. Santa Claus) deliver toys to all the children of the world in a single night?”

Arthur Christmas, a 2011 animated film co-produced by Sony Pictures and Britain’s Aardman Studios, answers that question thusly: He does it with a little help from his friends (a few thousand of them, actually).

It’s a common misconception that - since the dawn of Christmas - there has been only one Santa Claus. In fact, there have been twenty, all of whom can trace their ancestry back to the original St. Nicholas. The current Santa, Malcolm Christmas (voiced by Jim Broadbent), has held the job for 70 years, and is nearing the end of his reign. 

A lot has changed since Malcolm first became Santa. For one, he no longer uses a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Instead, Santa now cruises the world in the S-1, a massive airship that can travel at the speed of sound and has room enough for thousands of elves, who assist him during his Christmas Eve run by delivering the toys on his behalf. 

Santa’s oldest son (and heir apparent) Steve (Hugh Laurie) oversees the entire operation from the North Pole’s mission control center, while Steve's younger brother, the always-optimistic but somewhat clumsy Arthur (James McAvoy), has the thankless job of answering the millions of letters sent by children from all over the world.

Yet despite the technology at their disposal, no one notices until it’s too late that, at the end of Santa’s most recent run, a solitary toy was overlooked. For Steve, missing a delivery is no big deal (after all, they successfully handled over 2 billion packages that night), but for Arthur, the thought of a child’s Christmas being ruined is too much to bear. 

Hopping aboard the old sled that previous Santas had used for centuries, Arthur - along with his grandfather, aka Santa #19 (Bill Nighy) and an elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen) - sets out for England, hoping to deliver the toy in time for Christmas morning. But will the antiquated sled make it there in one piece?

Right out of the gate, Arthur Christmas introduces us to a fascinating world in which Santa and his elves have gone high-tech. We watch as the S-1 makes its way into a city, and marvel as hundreds of elves drop from the ship onto the rooftops below, where, with military precision, they deliver gifts to thousands of children in a matter of minutes, using an assortment of gadgets to get the job done (one of the most interesting gizmos is a scanner that determines whether a child has been “good” or “naughty”). 

Equally as impressive is the mission control center, situated hundreds of feet below the North Pole, where Steve Christmas and a few thousand elves monitor the S-1’s progress. Aside from being very creative, these scenes establish the film’s overall tone, which can best be described as frantic. Even later on, when Arthur and his “GrandSanta” climb aboard the old sled, the energy remains at a fevered pitch, giving us one exciting sequence after another (at one point, Arthur and Grandsanta lose their way and land in Tanzania's Serengeti reserve, where they have a close encounter with a pride of lions).

Utilizing the voice talents of an all-star cast (which also includes the likes of Michael Palin, Imelda Staunton, Laura Linney, and Eva Longoria) and delivering a message of hope that is sure to resonate with many younger viewers, Arthur Christmas is one of the most original Holiday films to come along in years.

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