Disappointing Christmas fare

2011-12-12 00:00

IN numerous interviews with the creatives at Pixar Studios (Toy Story, Cars, Up etc.), one feature continually emerges. Although the technology and techniques used to create their masterpieces are often groundbreaking, the real emphasis and strength of their films lie in their compelling storylines and character development.

To date Pixar has set a high standard, and unfortunately Arthur Christmas, made by the British animation outfit Aardman, stumbles at the level of narrative even though the animation is top-class.

The basic premise is that The North Pole, in keeping with the times, is using technology and modernisation to streamline its gift delivery. Although headed up by a rather forgetful and spineless Father Christmas (voiced by Jim Broadbent), the operation is really managed by one of his sons, a quasi-dictator with star-studded epaulettes. The traditional sleigh and reindeer have been replaced by a high-tech spaceship that floats above neighbourhoods, while SWAT teams of elves use military precision to infiltrate homes and deliver gifts. In essence, the film suggests that Christmas has been robbed of its humanity and tradition.

The North Pole is now merely a fancy FedEx. The stylistic approach used to get this point across is a deluge of images so rapid-fire that audience members, both young and old, during my screening, appeared to disengage — information overload. If the images weren’t all clichés it would have been simply abstract.

Respite from the editing assault comes with the introduction of Arthur (James McAvoy), Father Christmas’s other son, whose concerns are raised when the operation fails to deliver a gift to a young girl. It’s an acceptable statistic for his dictator brother, but for Arthur this becomes his quest and the main arc of the film.

Arthur, unlike his brother, relies on low-tech reindeers and a sleigh. With a bit of magic dust and Grandfather in tow, he sets out on his mission.

What should have evolved, as in the magnificent animation Up, was the inter-generational relationship between Arthur and his grandfather, which of course plays into the tradition versus modernity thematic.

Instead we get stock British characterisation and a wildly erratic journey. There is no charm to the film as it sticks rigidly to its conservative British middle-class values. Arthur Christmas is hugely disappointing.


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