One of the very great things about my disability work is that, on occasion, we take clients to see the movies. Yesterday, I was looking after a client who also enjoys movies, so it was quite enjoyable. We saw Arthur Christmas, an animation from the creators of Wallace & Gromit.
I’m a bit of a scrooge about Christmas (ever since I watched the extras on the Elf DVD and saw how much time, money and energy is spent in America putting Christmas lights and decorations on their houses, *shudder*) but I really enjoyed this movie (as I did Elf). As is typical of Santa movies, there is no mention of Jesus or anything related to him; I’m not sure that anything else needs to be said about that here.
Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy, mmm) is the bumbling, awkward, very lovable younger son of Santa (Jim Broadbent); he works in letters, answering childrens’ letters to Santa. He truly has a heart for making children happy at Christmas and cares about each and every child. The story starts with Arthur answering a letter to a little girl, Gwen, who asks how Santa delivers all those presents in just one night?
As Santa does his 70th ‘mission’, we see how he manages it – I won’t ruin all the details, but if you crossed Mission Impossible (one elf does the signature Tom Cruise move, stopping inches above the floor) with Star Trek, and maybe a little bit of Independence Day, you’d have something close.
All of the elves expect that Santa will retire, as most Santas have done after their 70th mission, so one of the plots is about working out who the next Santa will be – Arthur, who is so clumsy he can’t be in ‘mission control’ because he destroys things with his slippery Christmas slippers, or Steve (Hugh Laurie) who is completely capable, but does not have the heart?
Along the way, there are some interesting (the good kind of interesting) comments made on different aspects of Christmas and life in general. A couple that stood out for me were: when Santa and his wife were sitting in bed on Christmas night after a ‘mission accomplished’, she hands him a wrapped present, saying, “This is for me, dear.” He hands it back, “Merry Christmas,” and she looks pleasantly surprised. Meanwhile, he’s given money and gift vouchers to everyone else, admitting that Christmas is a rush, what with all the 2 billion children he delivers presents to. Oh, to not worry about Christmas shopping and festivities!
The complication of the story reveals another little challenge/commentary when in the commotion of a ‘waker’ (a kid woke up while Santa was in the house), a toy gets lost in the ‘sleigh’ and a child is missed. The different reactions of the characters reveal what they really think of Christmas. As Santa and Steve give up on the little girl, Gwen (who wrote the letter at the start) and defend their “lots of zeroes with a very small number and a percentage at the end” error of margin, the elves have a meltdown (almost literally) and start asking questions about the children who “don’t matter”. “Which one?” “Is there a list of children who don’t matter?” This could have been worked a bit better, I think. It’s not a hugely powerful challenge (I suppose they don’t want to go too hard, because who goes to a children’s movie to be challenge about how they think about others?) and I don’t think it will generalise much into other areas of life. Usually a Christmas movie will play on the concept of family (which it does, just more among the Christmas family, not for any of the children); I suppose I can appreciate that they want to do something different. It’s just disappointing that the main point of Christmas, according to this movie, is to get presents and be happy.
Meanwhile, Arthur and Grand-Santa (Bill Nighy) go old-school and decide to save the day with the traditional sleigh, reindeer and magic dust. Arthur almost doesn’t go because of his fear of heights but cares about Gwen so comes through; Grand-Santa wants to prove that new isn’t necessarily better and that he can save the day without all the bells and whistles of the S1 (the sleigh ship). As expected, the day is saved, but only when the three generations and both brothers realise they need to work together to make it happen.
It was told from the perspective of the Christmas crew; there isn’t really any time spent with the children, which is fine, that wasn’t their aim. I was a bit disappointed with the ending. You know those movie endings where they share the “where are they now” picture and text? “So and so became this and has these plans, blah blah. And he was happy. And she was happy. And they were happy.” Because they all got what they wanted.
Overall, it was very entertaining and clever, and as much as I hate Santa, I liked the spin they put on it. It was quite light-hearted and had the appropriate emotional points (dear old Arthur, he gets so excited watching children open presents). I noticed that it’s also available in 3D, which I think would be worth doing; there is quite a bit of action and adventure and there was one scene in particular that, from the quality of the picture, looked like it was made more for 3D than 2D (but we had clients with epilepsy, so that’s not a good idea).
I’m just a little bit sad that even after escaping movie-land Christmas, I still have to buy presents and endure the festive season of Santa-mas.