This lively holiday romp has a steady stream of sharp verbal and visual gags that hold our interest. Even when the plot stalls in the middle, it's difficult to stop chuckling at the filmmakers' deranged sense of humour.
At the North Pole, Santa (Broadbent) is a bit complacent after 70 years on the job, letting his heir-apparent son Steve (Laurie) convert Christmas Eve into a high-tech black-ops style mission executed with military precision. To Steve, missing one child is an insignificant statistic. But Steve's younger brother Arthur (McAvoy) disagrees, and teams up with his feisty Grandsanta (Nighy) to make sure the last gift is delivered the old fashioned way.
Yes, the film is a riot of clashes between tradition and progress, the wisdom of the years and youthful vigour. Fortunately, the serious themes are subverted, hilariously playing with our expectations and never turning into a nostalgic paean to the olden days. That said, this British production does feel eerily co-opted by Hollywood, from the use of the American "Santa Claus" (no one ever calls him "Father Christmas", which might have made sense of the film's odd title) to the somewhat feeble attempts to ramp up the action and suspense. Not to mention a massive wave of sentimentality at the end.
But even this is undermined by Baynham (Borat) and director Smith's script, which maintains a dry British sense of humour and gives the strong vocal cast plenty of snappy material to play with. While most of the characters are a bit unmemorable, Nighy gets the best lines: Grandsanta as an old coot full of surprises, including some terrific rude jokes and an amusingly animated hound-style old reindeer sidekick. Staunton also has some terrific dialog as the underestimated Mrs Santa.
Visually the film is brightly colourful, amusingly designed with small sight gags and continual Christmas imagery. While the characters look a little plasticky, the settings are gorgeously rendered, and the flying sleigh sequences almost make it worth seeing in 3D. The problem is that the film feels stretched out by random antics and underdeveloped plot-threads along the way that add nothing to the overall story. So we get tired of the bumbling chaos, mainly because we know exactly where it's got to end up.
Arthur Christmas is the clumsy youngest son of the famous Santa Claus. Together with his family, including his father, his cool older brother Steve, Santa's father Grandsanta and Santa's wife, Mrs. Santa, they run a top secret, highly state of the art operation beneath the North Pole, which helps Santa deliver every single Christmas present in one night around the globe and which cannot be seen by anyone else. It is a lengthy process, which sees Santa's team of elves - including a 'Gift Wrapping Battalion' who carry scissors and tape guns - training in the isolated Arctic during the summer by performing drills and practising their wrapping skills on unsuspecting polar bears. There is also a 'mission control' in which Santa and his team can see exactly how many days there are until Christmas and how many presents have been wrapped.
Continue: Arthur Christmas Trailer
The filmmaker, James Ronald Whitney, doubles as the host for this game show, which picks a half-dozen contestants (three women, three men) from the hundreds of hopefuls who answer an ad for "completely uninhibited, attractive" actors who want the chance to win a $10,000 prize. (As far as I can tell, this is all on the up and up -- it's a real game show, with real prizes, not a mockumentary.) The selection process is a serious grind, with contestants made to go up and tell their most painful memories in detail to the group, act out an erotic little playlet, and do everything possible to show how uninhibited they are. Even though the film tosses around the word "uninhibited" as though the filmmakers were earning a commission on how many times they could use it, none of the contestants who are chosen establish any sort of rapport with the camera, and no amount of getting naked (and there's a lot of it) or crying about their tortured childhoods (a suspicious amount of this, as all six conveniently have a horrific story to tell) makes up for that fact.
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