Every year Santa brings gifts to some 600 million kids, and all within a single night. To accomplish this feat he has a small army of elves, and a sleigh-shaped airship called the S1. The commando elves descend upon towns and deliver goodies to the kiddies proportionate to their level of “good” while the big guy Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is simply a figurehead. Son Steve (Hugh Laurie) heads all operations and is fully expecting to be crowned the next Santa, but when a girl is skipped over it’s the heir’s spare the titular Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy) who makes it his mission to deliver the last present.
The Christmas film genre has something of a subgenre concerning the explanation of how Santa works his magic. There’s usually a play on the traditional. Maybe Santa has a technologically modified suit, or in this case he’s fitted with a beret. Many times the sleigh has rockets, but here it’s interesting how the folklore sleigh has been decommissioned.
First time director Sarah Smith holds things together, and in 3D. The trouble is there isn’t much new to see. The British Santa is different from the norm, but once gramps and Arthur start their sleigh ride the movie gets highly repetitive. They land in the wrong place, elves exclaim that a kid was skipped, effort is made to level emotions, and they set off yet again. There’s a madcap dash to get the bike to the girl at the end, culminating in an ill-advised wrapping of the bike while Arthur rides it through town in a race with the sun. How jaded am I that this doesn’t strike me as high thrills?
This is a movie about a super-sonic sleigh ride through the sky, but even within the right context there are things that simply don’t add up. For instance, the elves can do all the work yet for no explained reason Santa has to deliver one of the gifts within a given town in order for them to move on to the next. There’s also way too much fuss made over Santa being spotted, which should happen from time to time if he wants to keep getting credit. As simple as the story is it’s amazing how many times the inciting incident is repeated for the sake of the audience. Arthur himself is terribly banal. His job is to read all the letters to Santa and carry about a jolly attitude with all of one dimension.
Arthur Christmas offers the expected lesson on family, is more than adequate in adventure, but isn’t joyously memorable. Parents can sit through it, and some jokes such as the military jargon are aimed at them. There’s even a Dubya “Mission Accomplished” banner, but who hasn’t done that? **