Christmas comes early for cinemagoers with the release of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, a co-production between Aardman and Sony Animation.

The film is about Santa succession and the enduring success Santa enjoys in circumnavigating the globe on one night.

As depicted at the beginning of the picture, it’s a major military operation, a meld of high tech and magic as 21st century Santa eschews the traditional nine reindeer open sleigh with a star ship, the S-1 that has a Kris Kringle cloaking device Klingons would envy.

Elf commandos nimble ninja into homes on silent night depositing presents and ensuring Santa security from non somnolent children.

The precision present placement has been engineered by Steve who is next in line to take the deer reins as Santa turns seventy, the statutory retirement age for Saint Nicks. But the subordinate Claus, while a genius at logistics lacks the spirit of Christmas, something his younger brother, Arthur, has in spades.

When a single toy is not delivered, klutzy kid Claus, Arthur, in cahoots with grumpy Grandsanta, break out the old sleigh, christened Eve, and powered by the original reindeer descendants set out to deliver the item and restore the magic of Yule.

Admirers of Aardman will not be disappointed with this production as it has all the hallmarks of past glories from Wallace and Gromit through Chicken Run, Curse of the were Rabbit and Flushed Away.

In taking on a project with the scope and scale of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, Aardman – a company best-known for the clever humour and idiosyncratic designs of its signature stop-motion films – took on a great challenge: how to translate the characteristic Aardman sensibility to a 3D-animated form. The project became a merging of the minds between the storytellers at Aardman, the creative animation team at Sony Pictures Animation, and the CG artists and technology at Sony Pictures Imageworks and Aardman.

Written by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith, pioneers of the Alan Partridge Show, and directed by Smith, this clever, acerbic, crazy, non cloying animation has such a superb script that it’s attracted an extraordinary voice cast.

James McAvoy is Arthur, Jim Broadbent, Santa, James Laurie, Steve, and Bill Nighy is the cranky curmudgeon Grandsanta, the politically incorrect codger whose cause is not pure Claus – reindeers are dappled cretins with twigs on their head!” Imelda Staunton is Mrs. Claus and there is a wickedly winning performance by Ashley Jensen as the Christmas-wrap artist, Bryony – “there’s always time for a bow.” There’s even a Python, with Michael Palin providing a vocal.

Purists may be pissed that pixels have replaced plasticine, but should be won over by the wit of the words and scale of story. The animation is state of the art – the rendering of the reindeer specifically resplendent – and dazzling in its detail.

No trickly treacle sentimental Santa stuff here – although it has as much heart as hilarity- ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a seasonal feast of a film that really is fun for all the family. It fairly dashes, dances and prances through its ninety-seven minutes.

© Richard Cotter

21 November, 2011