Arthur Christmas

What it's about:

Santa Claus's youngest son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) sets off on a mission to correct a mistake made by his father's hi-tech operation: To give a Christmas present to a little girl who was overlooked.

What we thought:

At a cursory glance, Arthur Christmas doesn't look too promising. Its frankly awful title aside, Arthur Christmas isn't just a seasonal kids film, but a seasonal kids film that sets out to answer that most ridiculous of eternally ridiculous questions: Just how does Santa Claus deliver all those presents to all those billions of kids in a single night? Isn't devoting a film to answering that question more or less the same as devoting an entire film to figuring out why Superman can fly? 

Worse, this is a Christmas film whose main plot revolves around Santa delivering presents, which means it will invariably be one of those films. You know the kind of film I mean: those sickly sweet holiday movies that are supposed to be all about the meaning of Christmas but mostly land up being all about the meaning of presents. It's really difficult not to be cynical about these Yuletide offerings because, for every genuine classic like It's A Wonderful Life, Die Hard or A Christmas Carol (in all its variations), there are a hundred Christmas films that do nothing so much as rot the heart, melt the brain and shrivel the soul.

The brilliant thing about Arthur Christmas, then, is that it manages to be one of the very best animated kids films of the year – if not the best – despite being guilty of all, or at least most, of these pitfalls.

There's simply no denying it: Save for the mighty Pixar, Aardman Studios (Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away) are simply in a class of their own. They may have moved away – temporarily, I hope – from stop-motion claymation to compete in the big leagues of CGI animation, but they have hardly missed a step in the transition.

Arthur Christmas looks as good as any big budget animated film but its greatest triumph is undoubtedly its storytelling. The script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith (the latter also directed the film) is smart, funny and sweet in a way that is more likely to put a smile on your face than have you struggling to keep your lunch down. Being something of a beat-the-clock-type chase film, it's also pacey and far more exciting than its daft premise would ever suggest.

To its great credit, it also boasts a truly ace voice-cast of excellent (mostly) British actors - including James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and, best of all, Bill Nighy as the curmudgeonly, scene-stealing "Grandsanta" - whose obvious sense of comic timing ensures that just about every joke hits its mark. Every actor fits their character to a tee (or is that the other way around?) and help to ensure that these characters are as likeable as they are, which helps to elevate the material far beyond the mawkish, moronic vacuity of its underlying plot.

Arthur Christmas really shouldn't work but, even when the flaws in the film are at their most transparent, it simply becomes impossible to care when you're having this much fun.

And it doesn't matter how old you are either: Along with being a great animated film and, despite itself, a top-notch Christmas movie (even for those of us who don't celebrate Christmas), it's also a terrific family film that will charm grandparents and toddlers alike.

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