12 Days of Christmas Movies #1 - Arthur Christmas

Well watching 31 horror movies in October damn near killed me so I figure the most logical decision is to do it again with Christmas movies! Of course thanks to the famous 12 Days of Christmas song, I get to be lazy and only do this 12 times this month. And to be extra lazy I’ve asked other people to help write some reviews with me. Also I’m allowed to talk about movies that I’ve already seen. So basically I went down a checklist of all the ways I can be supremely lazy about this whole thing. Sooooo...enjoy?

I’m actually kicking this off with both a newer Christmas movie, and one I’ve never seen before. Arthur Christmascame out last year to positive reviews but I never found time to see it and they of course took the route of waiting until the following Christmas before releasing the Bluray.

I don’t even remember the last time we got a Christmas movie that can be considered a potential classic. Elf maybe? Harold and Kumar was ok but nothing I plan to revisit often. For the most part we’ve either gotten mediocrity or some of the worst pieces of holiday cinema imaginable (I’ll be getting to some of those but two words - Tim Allen). Leave it to the Wallace and Gromit guy to step in and show these guys how to get this shit done.

Arthur Christmas is the son of Santa Claus and I’m realizing right now that I have absolutely no idea why his last name is Christmas but it doesn’t really matter. In this world, Santa is actually a title that is passed down through a generation of family. The current Santa (real name Malcolm) is ready to retire and his son Steve is in line to take the title. But oh man how much you want to bet that his other bumbling son Arthur becomes an equal candidate as this movie progresses.

The opening sequence of this movie shows how the whole Christmas operation goes down. Santa Claus is essentially the face of the organization, doing very little while the elves do all the manual labour. Christmas night is depicted as a military operation, complete with commands, threat levels, and even a “bomb” defusing. The idea of stealth like elves delivering the presents undetected isn’t too original in itself, but the actual presentation is brilliant and there are more creative ideas in this opening than most movies (especially Christmas ones) are able to drum up in their entire running time.

The plot kicks in once it’s discovered that one little girl’s bike got left off the sleigh (which has been upgraded to an enormous spaceship) and therefore will not be delivered, meaning no Christmas for her. Santa and Steve are ready to write this off as a statistical anomaly but Arthur ain’t having that shit. He, his grandfather and an elf who specializes in gift wrapping all take the classic sleigh out in an attempt to beat the clock and deliver this present before the sun comes up.

I’ve read some criticism that the plot for this movie is too convoluted and that there is too much going on. Having just watched the movie when I saw those comments, I could not be more baffled. Do not listen to these people! The plot is as simple as I just laid out, with some more ideas fleshed out of course. I assume these same people would pause an episode of Friends to back up and ask “wait wait wait....what’s going on? So he thinks she slept with someone else? God I’m so lost!” This is why I have to stop going to the IMDB message boards.

On top of bringing a unique spin to the whole Santa idea, Arthur Christmas is one of the funniest animated movies I’ve seen in a good while. The dialogue is clever and never panders to its young audience, and there are tons of visual jokes that are often tucked away in the background, making a second viewing almost a necessity. The characters are well written and likable and I like that there isn’t really a villain, just people making selfish decisions. I have to admire a movie that has the balls to make Santa a clueless dick who uses everyone as a scapegoat and is willing to call one child not getting a Christmas gift a write-off.

The movie also has the perfect amount of Christmas sap. This is a difficult balance to pull off and many movies fail by becoming ridiculous sappy in the final act. Often it feels unearned (like a certain Tim Allen movie we’ll get to) and is completely overwrought. Arthur Christmas gets sentimental, but never sappy, and it’s really only in a couple of scenes. It gets across that Christmas is magical without having to get up in your face and scream “LOOK HOW FUCKING MAGICAL THIS SHIT IS! DON’T YOU HEAR THAT SAPPY MUSIC?! WHIMSY!!!”

Arthur Christmas is the first time in a good long while that I’ve walked away from a Christmas movie thinking that I just might want to come back to it as part of my annual Christmas movie rotation, or bi-annual at the very least. It’s funny, clever, charming, and never falls into the trap of being too sentimental. An excellent start to the Christmas movie marathon!