Toonzone recently had the opportunity to preview the first act of Sony/Aardman’s Arthur Christmas. In the film, we discover that Santa is not a single person, but a dynasty: a mantle handed down from generation to generation within the Claus family. Once a limited to a single sleigh, the delivery of the world’s Christmas presents is now a high-tech operation involving a giant camouflaged airship and hundreds and hundreds of elves, all carried out in a very mechanical and precise manner reminiscent of a special ops mission.
Arthur is the current Santa’s youngest son. He’s a little slow and naïve, but has a deep love of the Christmas holiday and all of the joy it brings to children. The current Santa Claus is a bit oblivious to everything around him. He believes that he is fully responsible for the success of the delivery missions, minimizing the contributions of his eldest son, Steve. As the man responsible for all of the day to day responsibilities necessary to pull off a successful Christmas, Steve expects to be named the next Santa when his father retires. Mrs. Santa exists in her husband’s shadow while actually taking care of a huge amount behind the scenes. Grandsanta, the last man to hold the mantle, spends his days complaining about the present and reminiscing about his good old days in the most politically incorrect manner possible.
Arthur, having failed at all other jobs at the North Pole, now spends his time reading and answering mail in the “Letters to Santa” division. He receives a letter from a young girl named Gwen Hines. She largely believes in Santa despite the bending of space and time that would be necessary to make it all happen. Delighted by her enthusiasm, Arthur writes back to assure her of the existence of Santa and then makes special note of her gift.
Unfortunately, due to a sorting mishap, her present is missed during Steve’s big mission. Realizing the impracticality of pulling together all of the elves and equipment to attempt a redelivery in time, Steve opts to have it mailed to her instead. Arthur, devastated by the thought that even one child would miss out on their Christmas gift, does not need extensive convincing when Grandsanta suggests they deliver the gift themselves.
It’s a very pretty looking film. There was great attention to detail in the environments and objects. Santa’s ship is phenomenal looking, on both the exterior and interior. I can’t even begin to fathom how long it took them to build the interior of the headquarters from which Christmas is coordinated. They made some gorgeous looking night/dawn skies. The lighting was also particularly well done during the Christmas mission.
The characters don’t look quite as natural. I always find it a little unsettling when characters are that stylized, but have more realistic skin textures. All of the main characters are animated well. I found there to be some unnatural jerkiness in the animation of some of the elves.
While I like the premise of the film, I do have a qualm with some of what was shown in the first act. There’s a certain purity to the nature of Arthur’s character which makes him likable. However, because he was portrayed as a well-intentioned individual of lower intelligence, it becomes a bit uncomfortable to watch as other characters relegate him to tasks that he’ll feel useful on, but are really designed to just keep him out of the way so actual work can be accomplished. No one is ever nasty to Arthur and they seem to care for him, but because he doesn’t seem to be entirely absorbing what’s taking place, it doesn’t feel right.
The film is otherwise humorous. In particular, Grandsanta was the source of some delightfully politically incorrect statements. For example, an elf is almost discovered during the Christmas mission as a toy starts to make loud sounds, almost waking a kid. While the elves coordinate a complicated extraction process, Grandsanta, who is watching from his television at home, is convinced that an equally effective solution would involve whiskey and a rock in a sock. Another example comes when Arthur is looking for reassurance that his and Grandsanta’s seemingly impossible mission can be carried out, and the elder Claus reassures him by emphatically saying, “They used to say it was impossible to teach women to read!”
Well, I laughed anyway. It probably would have been much less funny if Grandsanta wasn’t so clearly a product of his time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that enough of the film was shown to really establish whether or not the work had heart or might be misfiring with their choices on the Arthur’s character. It was, however, very nice looking and did seem to be hitting on most of the comedic beats it intended to.
Arthur Christmas will be released to theaters nationwide on November 23, 2011.