By Nick Maylor
In this delightful animated film with a star-studded cast, the title of “Santa” works like it would within inherited monarchy. It is passed down, generation to generation and has done so for centuries.
The current Santa is Malcolm (Jim Broadbent). His father Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) is now retired. Malcolm has two sons. His eldest Steven (Hugh Laurie), is the heir apparent and Arthur (James McAvoy) is the film’s protagonist who works in the letters department at the North Pole.
Arthur is a joyous, sweet boy who loves Christmas and being part of the Claus family. He personally writes letters to children from the North Pole, answering all their questions about Christmas and Santa’s magic. His older brother, Steve is militaristic and runs the Christmas sleigh operation, relishing his inevitable ascension to the throne of Santa Claus. Santa’s modern sleigh (called the S-1) is more reminiscent of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek than the traditional sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. With an army of elves on hand, the Christmas operation has become a massive, technological operation for a modern age. After finishing the trip across the globe, Santa (who basically just goes along to keep up appearances) decides that he will be back again next year, much to the surprise of Steve who had expected to hear his father announce his retirement.
It is revealed that a small girl in England did not receive her present due to an oversight. The gift is a bicycle and when Arthur discovers that a child has been “missed”, he freaks out, exclaiming that something must be done. Steve and Santa are content that she will receive the gift within the “window” of Christmas and retire for the evening. Arthur knows that this will ruin the child’s understanding of Christmas magic and relays his concerns to Grandsanta. The two of them go to an old barn where Grandsanta’s old sleigh (EVE) is stored, along with eight reindeer who are direct descendants of the original eight that flew with Saint Nicholas, the first Santa Claus. Grandsanta (who has been longing for a chance to prove that he still has what it takes to do the job) convinces Arthur to take out the old sleigh and deliver the single remaining gift to Gwen (Ramona Marquez), the missed child.
Upon taking off in the sleigh, Arthur is initially terrified of flying but soon sees the wonder and magic in the traditional way Santas used to do the job. Grandsanta regales Arthur of stories from the past including one hectic Christmas during World War Two and the first time Grandsanta took Malcolm out on the sleigh (a Claus tradition). Using the “Map of the Clauses”, Arthur and Grandsanta set off for England to deliver the gift to Gwen. They make their way from the North Pole through Canada and end up in the busy streets of Toronto. Along their journey they realize that the sleigh has a stowaway; an enthusiastic gift-wrapping elf named Bryony Shelfley (Ashely Jensen). After several botched attempts that see them accidentally land in the wrong parts of the world, losing reindeer one-by-one, Arthur, Bryony, and Grandsanta end up stranded in Cuba with no sleigh.
Finally, with the aid of Steve and Malcolm, the whole Claus family manages to deliver the bicycle to Gwen by Christmas morning. Steve, Malcolm, and Arthur watch keenly as Gwen opens her gift and together, Malcolm and Steve agree that the mantle of Santa Claus should deservedly be passed on to Arthur, who has proven himself to be worthy of the title.
The film is visually stunning, with the incredible animations doing great service to the heartwarming story and stellar cast of voices. Bill Nighy (as he has gained a reputation for doing so) steals every scene he appears in as Grandsanta. Some of the substantial moments of humour come from Grandsanta’s nostalgic stories from Christmases past when he did things the old fashioned way.
Nighy sings a rendition of the standard “Make Someone Happy” over the closing cards explaining where all the characters ended up in the story. Nighy sings this in character as Grandsanta.
Christmas is a time for nostalgia; the stories, films, and songs we are all familiar with. In that sense, bringing something new to the holiday season is always tricky and doesn’t necessarily pay off. However, Arthur Christmas celebrates all that we love about Christmas and it executed so wonderfully that it is a film worthy of becoming a cherished part of the holiday canon. An excellent little movie that gets everything right.
Merry Christmas from all of us here at Foote & Friends On Film!
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor