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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Please See Arthur Christmas: review

(written December 2012)
A year ago... last week or something, I saw “Arthur Christmas” and I loved the living tar out of it. I had always meant to do a review, and I can’t remember why I didn’t get around to it. Maybe I didn’t think it mattered, surely people would flock to it, surely it would find its little moment in the sun, SURELY it would at least get nominated for best animated feature.

A year’s gone by and barely anyone remembers it. I know I didn’t until a friend scrolled by it in red box and I stopped her, promising if she hated it I’d get her another out of my pocket. The next morning she found me in the Caf breathlessly explaining it had her from the first line and was incredibly disappointed she didn’t have time to finish the last act. I asked if I could return it myself and promptly tore through it all again. It wasn’t as good as I remembered it. It was better.

Arthur Christmas is, in a nut shell, about the lineage of Santa Clause and the sticky familial tension that arises from having to share “the greatest job in the world.” Malcolm Clause, the current Santa is little more than a figure head after his oldest son, Steve, has turned Christmas into a technologically drenched military operation. There’s nothing he wants more than to take over after his father’s 70th mission, but Malcolm decides to keep going, devastating Steve and causing one present for one child to go undelivered.

Arthur, the youngest and the most naive, is mortified over the .00000000001% margin of error and sets out with his grandfather, to make sure that Gwen Hines of Trelew UK never has to live with knowledge of being the one child on earth “Santa doesn’t care about.”
The script never lets up, if it’s not being droll or acerbic it’s affecting and poignant. The cast uniformly brings the goods, Bill Nighy (Grandsanta) in particular gets the best lines by far, an opportunity he does not squander. His kneejerk inhumane treatment of elves...
“Elf! Gift Wrap your head!”
“There isn't enough room to breathe! I've got nine seconds left before I black out!”
“... you get one breath!” in itself worth the price of the DVD. But you still have a thinly villainous Hugh Laurie, (Steve) a stupendously adorable James Macavoy, (Arthur) and a scene stealing Scottish giftwrapping ninja elf (Ashley Jenson). Forget what I just said, Jenson is worth the whole DVD. Man, I haven’t even brought up Henry Gregson-William’s  score yet ... that too is another beautiful part of what was already a very special project.

There has never been a Christmas film a FRACTION as funny, well plotted, or genuinely heartfelt as this. Yes, those are fighting words, and yes, I will fight for them. I mean sure, you have to be in the right mindset for it, and I wasn’t totally on board with it at first either. The “yes Virginia” opening was a little too twee for my taste at the time, but it was absolutely necessary and it never goes back to that well again until the last minute or so, but by then it had me by the emotional shorthairs and you’re welcome for that image.

What? OK I'm sorry!
The film works simultaneously as a loving tribute and bitter satire not of what Christmas has become (because seriously how tired is that?) but what it has always been. It’s about family, and most of the time families are hard to deal with, they screw up, and they shatter your expectations. The point is, or at least the point Arthur Christmas tries to make, is that people need to take a step back, think about everyone’s needs and decide what’s best for the whole.
Sometimes it’s compromise, sometimes it’s a pink twinkle bike. 

Please see Arthur Christmas.

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