The animated, 3-D Arthur Christmas introduces three generations of St. Nick’s family: Weedy retired Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy, hogging the good lines), the obliviously ineffectual Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent), and his two sons, the North Pole’s ultra-competent control-room manager and Santa’s expected successor, Steve (Hugh Laurie), and his brother, Arthur (James McAvoy), a well-meaning simp who alone doesn’t have an ego-based agenda. (The joke is that even the First Family of Christmas can’t get along for the holidays.) Steve keeps the high-tech Christmas operation running—gifts are delivered by commando elves operating from a camouflaged mother ship—but when one present goes accidentally undelivered, Arthur and Grandsanta set off on a mission in a vintage reindeer-hauled sleigh run on anti-gravity magic dust. The script, by director Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham—who’ve written previously for Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci—has copious laughs, an affecting saccharinity, and some marvelous bits of imagination, like a sprinkling of dust unleashed over the Serengeti that turns the sky into a constellation of jungle animals. Arthur was made, in co-production with Sony, by Aardman Animations, the U.K. company best known for Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit shorts, and the character animation has some of the same homely charm. Really it’s a lovely bit of work, only marred by the completely cynical, cranked-out Justin Bieber video of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” tacked on the front for what can only be demo marketing.
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