An Aardman animation written and directed by people who’ve collaborated with Steve Coogan, Sacha Baron Cohen and Chris Morris should probably be a lot better. But it’ll do. A slender, inoffensive and mildly amusing trifle that files some familiar riffs on Xmas lore, Arthur Christmas posits that Santas rotate, with one passing the torch of porcine gift-giver to their spawn. As such, the North Pole is now stacked with three bickering generations.
The current S.C. (voiced by Jim Broadbent) goes about his annual business aided by eldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie), a high-tech Type-A-type who’s mechanized the production into a Mission: Impossible -style army of fleet elves diving into houses on wires and getting out without waking the dog. While Steve has equipped the Claus outfit for the modern age, it’s really his warm-hearted, mildly foolish younger brother Arthur (James McAvoy) who has contracted the holiday spirit gene. When a minor glitch results in one little girl missing her prezzie, Arthur—along with crotchedy, not-giving-a-shit gramps (Bill Nighy) and an eyebrow-ring-rocking wrapping elf (Ashley Jensen)—decide to remedy the matter the old fashioned way: by dusting off the reindeer.
What results has its moments of wily inspiration: The obvious peak finds the Serengeti inadvertently doused in reindeer magic dust, wreaking a sea of flying jungle animals. And though the film goes light on the saccharine—the film’s goriest moment is the Justin Bieber video sadistically sewn on before the credits—it doesn’t qualify as any more than a good-humored time waster, with jokes that work largely due to the presence of British accents. Here’s a film that can’t even give an ex-Python something noticeable to do.
Arthur Christmas is pleasant, funny even, but one expects more than “pleasant, funny even” from talent who’ve collectively had a hand, at least, in the Wallace and Gromit series, I’m Alan Partridge , Borat , Bruno , Brass Eye, Jam and The League of Gentlemen, to say nothing of the various CVs of the storied voice cast. Not even the Aardman animation registers as beyond serviceable. One assumes the company was merely storing up energy for their forthcoming pirate opus, and maybe a couple more Wallace and Gromit entries.