Movie Advent #3: Arthur Christmas
03 December 2018 12:25
The festive season is the one time of year that we all indulge in childish fantasies for the sake of a good party, so it’s only fitting that we should allow ourselves to indulge in childish films too. There are many Christmas movies that fall into this category, but few are as underrated as Sarah Smith’s relatively recent Arthur Christmas (2011). With a cast of James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Ashley Jenson, this animated soon to be classic (trust me) imagines the world of a modern Santa without ruining the magic – making it the perfect thing to stick on when a 7-year-old argues that, thanks to exponential growth, Father Christmas couldn’t possibly deliver presents to every single child in one night.
It all starts on Christmas Eve, of course, as the somewhat incompetent Malcom (AKA Santa, played by Jim Broadbent) is mid-mission aboard a modern upgrade of the traditional sleigh, a ginormous space craft that camouflages with the night sky, and converts mince pies and cookies into biofuel. The brains of the operation come from his son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), the espresso-drinking assumed heir to the Santa title, who runs Christmas Eve with the same efficiency and lack of emotion as an army general. Meanwhile, beavering away diligently in the mailroom, his brother Arthur’s (James McAvoy) seasonal spirits are at an all-time high, as signalled by his musical reindeer slippers from China. He’s clumsy and wreaks havoc when he enters the main control room, but his heart is in the right place, delighting in and replying to every letter that reaches the North Pole, while signing off each response in glittery marker.
You can imagine Arthur’s horror, then, when post-mission it comes to light that Gwen Hines from Trelew, Cornwall hasn’t received her bicycle. It’s the worst-case Christmas day scenario: a child has been missed. But while Arthur is sent into a frenzy by this news, Steve and Malcom couldn’t seem to care less – their job is done for the night, Gwen can just receive her bike a few days later with an apology note. Of course, this isn’t a satisfactory resolution to Arthur, so he turns to the only member of the family willing to assist, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy). A 136-year-old technophobe, who has to drink his Christmas lunch through a straw and insists that everything was better back in his day – despite risking both his and multiple reindeers’ lives delivering presents during world wars – Grandsanta sees this opportunity to prove that he’s still got it. Before you know it, he’s back behind the reins of the old school sleigh, with Arthur and a helpful elf named Bryony clutching on for dear life in the passenger seat.
A family friendly adventure ensues, as the trio attempt to navigate their way to Cornwall before sunrise without actually knowing how to drive the sleigh. More havoc is wreaked, but this time on a global scale; as the gang continuously fail to reach their destination, the audience is offered glimpses of different Christmas celebrations from around the world. It’s as silly as you’d expect, but that’s what makes it so great – a holiday that prompts society to cover everything in fairy lights and tinsel does not call for too much seriousness.
But don’t worry, the film doesn’t lose sight of the meaning of Christmas. While the rest of the Claus family are preoccupied with a power struggle over the Santa title, Arthur reminds us that one of the best things about the festive season is giving and, better yet, keeping the magic alive for those who still listen out for sleigh bells on the 24 December. He understands better than anyone that, for both children and adults, nothing is more comforting than believing in a mystical figure who watches over us and rewards our good behaviour. It’s not about power or consumerism, it’s about feeling loved, no matter who or what you believe in.