DVD review: Arthur Christmas

(G) ****

Director: Sarah Smith.

Cast: (voices of) James McEvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen.

A GOOD Christmas movie is like a good Christmas present - a pleasant surprise that fills you with that warm and fuzzy festive spirit.

Arthur Christmas is definitely more like gift-wrapped plane tickets rather than a hankies-and-undies combo. It's a wonderous and thoroughly modern take on the well-worn Yuletide setting and offers a fresh look on the joy of giving and the magic of the season.

The titular Arthur is Santa's clumsy and frowned-upon son. While his older brother Steve runs Christmas like clockwork and Santa himself is rolled out each year much like a monarch (ie. he doesn't do much), Arthur toils away in the mailroom, where he can stay out of the way, cause the minimal amount of destruction and thrive on his love of the holiday by replying to children's letters on behalf of Santa.

But this Christmas, Arthur is appalled to find that despite the meticulousness of the North Pole's high-tech operation, a child has been missed. Desperate to ensure the kid doesn't wake up without a gift from Santa, he embarks on a race against the clock to deliver the present before sunrise, with a little help from his retired grandfather (Grandsanta) and a gift-wrapping elf named Bryony.

The ride in Arthur Christmas' sleigh is an exciting one that's ideal for the whole family. The action sequences are exhilarating, including the opening scenes depicting the military-style operation involved in delivering two billion presents to two billion children, and the humour is geared to all ages.

While its plot might be simple and straightforward, the film is never dumbed down. It's just good, honest storytelling, with plenty of heart and characters that aren't particularly deep but that are consistent and well-rounded enough to care about and carry the movie effectively.

The voicework is uniformly excellent and, as you would expect these days with CG films, the animation is exquisite. This is Aardman animation's second CG movie (after Flushed Away) and it's a major step-up in ambition and vision, while still carrying a hint of that Aardman look people have loved from their stop-animation movies such as Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run.

It wouldn't be a Christmas movie without a Christmas message, and this film has a good one, beyond its idea that it doesn't matter who Santa is, whether it's Arthur, Steve, Santa or Grandsanta - it's all about the act of giving, not who does the giving.

The more intriguing theme here is that every person is important, that people aren't just numbers, and that margins for error and acceptable levels of failure still affect people's lives. It's deep stuff for a kids film, but it's all part of that warm and fuzzy festive spirit that Arthur Christmas will leave you with by the end.

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