(2011) director Sarah Smith
viewed: 11/25/2011 at Platinum Theater Dinuba 6, Dinuba, CA
After a dearth of worthwhile-seeming kids flicks during the autumn, the day before Thanksgiving saw the release of three films that my kids were interested in and that I was not averse to seeing myself. Arthur Christmas was the least of the three in my mind. I was more interested in the new The Muppets (2011) or the new Martin Scorsese-directed Hugo (2011), but the fates being what they are, Arthur Christmas was the first that we managed to see.
“Wallace and Gromit” studio Aardman, whose best work is done in stop-motion animation, is behind this latest in holiday movie-making (Christmas truly is a sub-genre unto itself). Aardman’s first digitally-animated feature, Flushed Away (2006), done in the same visual style even though no clay was employed in the animating process, was surprisingly fun (I loved the chorusing slugs and the villainous frogs and toads), so despite the fact that the Arthur Christmas trailer hadn’t done a thing for me, I was more than willing to believe that the studio generally released quality products.
Despite being an original story, the whole thing felt vaguely familiar.
Arthur is Santa’s second son, the retiring, dweebish, uber-sincere Christmas fan who works as a cog in the whole complex Santa empire. The Santas are meant to have been a generational group who hand down the title and responsibilities to the younger sons, but by present day (I mean, the current moment in time) the operation is run like a finely-honed military machine, with a horde of highly-skilled elves, a giant sleigh-shaped spacecraft, and a huge amount of NASA-like technology. And Arthur’s special-ops, beret-wearing older brother, is the one at the controls, waiting his time to take over for his aging father.
The adventure kicks in when one present is accidentally not delivered and Arthur kicks into action with his goofy grandfather and his old-fashioned sleigh and reindeer attempt to deliver the gift before the sun rises.
The whole thing is about how important it is that Christmas is about every child being recognized (gift-wise), no child left behind. The spirit of Christmas, of giving, of maintaining that magical quality of belief is what’s delivered ultimately by the one who most sincerely believes in the reason it exists. That would be Arthur. But it’s an ironical commentary, really, this passion and zeal for a sincere belief in a system completely concocted by the film. I mean, this is not the traditional image of St. Nick, this is a comically modern vision. This is not the religious traditions behind the holiday that the film seeks to fight for. This is something about making each child believe. Not believe that they matter, but believe because they get just what they wanted.
It’s a miry message, leaning heavily upon the sentiment that most holiday movies trade in, but what ultimately is being achieved here? Really, that is a good question for the film itself, adding to the swollen cornucopia of Christmas entertainment, of which a multitude of varieties of versioning of the Santa myth already glut the occasion. Why do we do it? Why add to the pile? More stuff to consume? More gifts to deliver? More carrying forward of the corporate culture of consumerism?
I may have taken a particularly cynical slant here, Scrooge-ish, even, but when I spent any time considering Arthur Christmas, I came a lot less to its small joys and momentary laughs, and much more down to its ultimate message. And it’s not very heartening.