Arthur Christmas may look like your generic store-bought egg nog holiday treat. But this coming-of-age Santa Claus feature humanizes the people of the North Pole by turning them into the fallen heroes and not-so-perfect parents from our past. It will make you laugh then make you cry.
Santa has become your typical obsolete figurehead, taking credit for his eldest son's brilliance and blaming others for his general ignorance. But this Santa's biggest crime isn't falling out of touch with the new-fangled X-Box world. This Santa is guilty of becoming disenchanted with Christmas. You see, this is Santa's 70th odd Christmas "mission" and the job is starting to wear. But alas, the old bugger is too attached to praise to pass the newly upgraded UGO-esque sleigh reigns to his son Steve.
Which is probably all well and good, because even though Steve has spearheaded the slick, new Apple Store Santa operation, he's rather crap with children. Meanwhile little brother Arthur has an infallible love for his Father Christmas but is slowly starting to witness Santa's decline, thus challenging Arthur's own feelings about the holiday.
Watching Arthur Christmas is kind of like first time you saw your parents get drunk. It's a private, personal horror watching your idols fall, but (if you're lucky) sometimes the flaws of our heroes only strengthen our love for them. Which appears to be the message that this tightly wound holiday film is peddling. Arthur loves his father, and Christmas. He's the human embodiment of the tacky Christmas sweater: warm, cheerful, silly, festive and completely unaware of it's own flaws. But when his father and big brother flippantly write off one erroneously skipped child on Christmas Eve as statistically inevitable, their cold "so what" response shatters Arthur's world.
Hungry to defend the good name of Christmas, Arthur sets out with his Grand Santa (current Santa's retired father) and a wily elf to rectify the problem. His trip turns this holiday picture into a road movie that rips open each character and shoves their flaws directly in Arthur's face. We learn discover that Steve cares more about the fast execution of the Christmas mission than the actual spirit of Christmas, and Santa is terrified of turning into the retired shell of anger that is Grand Santa. Meanwhile, Grand Santa only wants to prove that he's still a relevant member of the family. Basically the house of Claus isn't the happy singing claymation world we've come to know in the Burl Ives crooning snowman pictures. It's a real family with very real problems.
Humanizing the jolly man in the red suit is a great strategy, and it's no surprise that this film comes from Aardman Animations, which also created the dark/heartwarming movies Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit. These characters will pull on the heart strings of both kids and adults frustrated with the flaws of their own families. Needless to say, by the end of the picture, you'll be curled up in your movie seat sobbing and texting your own version of Father Christmas.
Arthur Christmas is also insanely witty. Many, many jokes will sail right over the kiddies' heads — for example, Grand Santa makes a joke about how something can't be that impossible as "they used to say it would be impossible to teach women to read," revealing both his flaws and his completely inept perspective on the world. But the laughs are fired at such a rapid pace the script doesn't miss a beat. Overall it's a wonderfully fresh take on a movie that could have just been standard Hallmark Channel holiday drivel. Thanks to great talent and one hell of a script, Arthur Christmas will forever have a place in our Christmas movie marathons.