From its movie poster, “Arthur Christmas” looks like the animated equivalent of the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake: expected by all, enjoyed by few.
With the characters’ vibe and the less-than-revolutionary synopsis – how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night? And what happens when a present is left behind? – I had prepared for the worst.
So color me delighted when this film turned out to be one of the wittiest, freshest and most original I have seen YTD.
Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy) is the youngest son of the current Santa, a man who is merely the latest (and laziest) incarnation in a long, long line of Santas. He resides at the North Pole with his dopey father, sweet mother, ambitious elder brother, Steve, and Grand Santa, a wily, acerbic 137-year-old who, I'll just say it, is a hoot.
From the beginning of the film, Arthur is depicted as a kind of walking accident-waiting-to-happen. After one such incident, he was banished to the Letters Department of the expansive and highly sophisticated North Pole mission control, led by none other than the dashing Santa-elect, Steve (Hugh Laurie).
In this world, created by Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations, Christmas night is a precisely choreographed ballet, involving a supersonic flight craft – the S1 – and hundreds of ninja-like elves who drop in, deliver and get out in stealth fashion. Long forgotten are the quaint sleigh of yore and those eight wise reindeer - “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Bambi and John?” as Grand Santa says.
So what happens when one very special bike for one very special little girl gets lost among the bells and whistles of the newer, sleeker Christmas? Arthur happens. The kind-hearted, overlooked second son of Santa springs into action with endearing abandon.
The next hour is filled with Arthur’s magic-filled adventures through foreign lands, accompanied by Grand Santa (Jim Broadbent) and an overachieving gift-wrapping elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen).
This film is so densely layered, it could easily be re-watched again and again, simply for the joy of hunting for those quick comic bits. An airbag explodes into Santa's chest, for example, and the screen behind him illuminates for the briefest second, "Warning: B.O. Stain Danger."
Ok, that's one of the less sophisticated jokes, but I assure you, take the whole family and you'll all leave a little happier and a little more infused with holiday cheer.
Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
Catch it at:
* The Regal Cinema at 1:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and in 3-D at 4:10 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.
* AMC Tilghman 8 in South Whitehall at 4:10 p.m. and in 3-D at 2 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.
* The Rave at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley at 1:30 p.m., 5:25 p.m., 8:10 p.m. and 10:40 p.m., and in 3-D at 12:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.