ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is, as the British might say, "brilliant" -- an appropriate adjective for this very British, very funny holiday movie. I believe ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is destined to be a beloved Christmastime viewing perennial.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is an ingenious reworking of the Santa story. The creative screenplay by Peter Baynham and director Sarah Smith continually delights and surprises, as the viewer is treated to a fun cast of characters and very novel, modern methods of delivering gifts from the North Pole.
Santa (Jim Broadbent) is embarking on his 70th trip around the world delivering presents on Christmas Eve. Although he's reluctant to sit by the hearth with Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) on Christmas Eve, it may be time for Santa to turn over the reins -- not to a sleigh, but a spaceship -- to his oldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie), who runs delivery operations with military precision.
Santa's younger son, the klutzy but warm-hearted Arthur (James McAvoy), handles answering children's letters in the mailroom. When it's discovered that a gift for a little girl (Ramona Marquez) in Cornwall wasn't delivered, it's up to Arthur and Grandsanta and an outdated sleigh to make sure that her present is there when she wakes up on Christmas Day.
There are so many things I loved about the film. I could have happily spent the entire movie in the operations room, enjoying all the clever bits of business involved in making the deliveries to various countries. I think Steve, with his Christmas tree beard and military bearing -- a skilled but imperfect potential Santa -- was my favorite character. Watching him run operations was a delight, especially when Santa was potentially trapped by a "waker." The North Pole computer, incidentally, is voiced by Laura Linney.
I also loved the film's very British tone, complete with "Happy Christmas" and stockings hung by children's beds. The ever-calm Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton), who handles every development with cheerful equanimity, was clearly modeled on Britain's beloved Queen Mum.
The Santas may have some interpersonal issues, but the movie also never loses sight that they're a family. Steve could easily have devolved into a villain, and it's to the film's credit that never happens. He's just a guy who's got a great skill set in one area but also has some problems. Likewise, Arthur has his own issues, but he's got great heart and is dedicated to making sure not a single child is forgotten. The film gradually demonstrates that Steve and Arthur's strengths complement one another, one of the film's many positive themes.
Another of the film's treats is Bryony (Ashley Jensen), a Scottish elf from the wrapping division, whose motto is "There's always time for a bow!" Bryony is a wonderful character who provides many laughs. Additional elves are voiced by Robbie Coltrane and Joan Cusack.
The movie deftly mixes humor and inventiveness with strong messages, including the importance of family and a "never give up" attitude, along with not forgetting what it means to have the Christmas spirit. The film is somewhat inexplicably rated PG for "mild rude humor," but whatever it was that caused the film not to have a G rating, I missed it. All in all, it's simply a wonderful film which provides 97 minutes of terrific entertainment.
Incidentally, we've seen plenty of 3D movies recently and didn't have any great desire to pay extra to see another film in that format, so we saw the 2D version. We didn't miss the 3D a bit.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS has an official website.
In closing, I agree completely with Leonard Maltin, who writes that ARTHUR CHRISTMAS "is so ingenious, endearing, and downright funny that it instantly joins the ranks of first-class holiday movies, intended for viewers young and old."