(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 15 January 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/now-animation-for-adults)
Voice Cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent
Directors: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
Rating: 4 stars
A part of you will die when Arthur Christmas opens to an idyllic town, where a pink-cheeked, wide-eyed girl stands on tip-toe to post a letter to Santa – well, that’s if you, like me, would rather kiss a rodent than a kid. But then, Gwen (Ramona Marquez) begins to read out:
If you live at the North Pole, how come I can’t see your house when I look in Google Earth? Are you St. Nicholas? – Because then you’d be incredibly old! How many cookies and mince pies have you eaten in all of history? Does your sack have to get bigger every year because of exponential population growth?
All right, a movie with Hugh Laurie and Bill Nighy in the cast can’t be a saccharine mess of candy floss and Christmas cheer, right?
As Arthur ‘Softie’ Christmas (James McAvoy) writes a maternal reply, ‘Santa-in-waiting’ Steve (Hugh Laurie) barks out orders to remote-control their father’s journey in the chic S1. Yes, Santa’s sleigh has been upgraded to something that Captain Kirk would covet; Steve likes his toys, and owns gadgets ranging from iPads to customised spy cams.
No wonder the bumbling Arthur is the Other Son. Hell, he ‘hoi’s his ‘hi’s and doesn’t tap his ‘t’s, so we know he hasn’t had Steve’s exclusive education, although Santa’s NGO seems to be minting money. Throw a 136-year-old grandfather with a point to prove (Bill Nighy), and a septuagenarian Santa who’s loath to retire (Jim Broadbent) into the mix – may the power politics play out.
We’re assured the writers aren’t targeting people whose age or IQ is in single digits when a man who wears Versace is given monogrammed boxers by a gay elf. There are several references to popular culture – the iconic sailor-nurse kiss that found a nod in The Watchmen is re-enacted, and an elf announces, “Santa has left the building”. The intriguing Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton) wants to hearSilent Night sung backwards. As if devil worship were not enough, there’s a crack about slave labour too.
The actors’ perfect timing and delivery make literal interpretations of idioms hilarious, and the unexpected twists take you by surprise. Political incorrectness finds expression through a buxom American President who trains her guns on UFOs, an Indian elf who’s migrated to the North Pole, a Scottish one that’s anal about wrapping presents, and asides about national protocol.
Hugh Laurie – oh, it’s nice to hear him sounding more like George from Blackadder than House from House! – is at his sneering best, and Bill Nighy, his grouchy worst. You know a Christmas film has worked when your eyes get a teensy bit moist despite all that sarcasm. The only downside to Arthur Christmas is that some of the action is so quick, and some of the wordplay so clever, that you may miss them on your first watch.