Wow, this is absolutely amazing! Seriously, I can't believe how great of a job Hugh Laurie did at that British accent; I mean, it's as if he really is British. Man, he and Christian Bale are some anti-English sons of Brits - whether they like that or not - and meanwhile, Hugh Laurie's movie brother, the twenty-years younger (Jeez, Santa, don't you think it's too soon for another kid?), James McAvoy is heading from the other side of the UK, trying to get to England and away from Scotland. To cap it all off, their movie father, Jim Broadbent, can't seem to escape that British accent, and their movie gandfather, Bill Nighy "The British Gighy" (Ha, Bill Nye reference), never wants to leave England. Well, I don't know if he so much wants to stay English, as much as he wants to stay a slithering freak after he played Davey Jones, because the next thing you know, he's playing an evil, hellspawn snake in "Rango", and now, even nastier, he's playing old Santa. Yeah, I know that everyone loves good ol' jolly Saint Nick (Except Muslims), but if there's something that you can say that's great about this film, it's the great realism, because even if you're Santa Claus, once you retire and reach about 90, let alone 136, you're going to crust up awful fast. Of course, that disturbing authenticity certainly isn't the only thing that's really good about this film, but much like Christmas itself, this film has more than enough stuff that kills the fun on its feet, so let us now dive into this film's "Akward Christmas Family Dinners"... which I haven't faced - because I'm white and don't have much to worry about (Just wait, Obama's not out of the office yet) -, but I hear stink.
For those who saw the trailer and feared some old "Planet 51" slapstick cornball bull, this film doesn't waste a second in showing you that it's more than that by opening up with a clever and mesmerizingly sweet moment that perfectly establishes our lead, as well as the tone of the film. Of course, after that, the film doesn't waste any time in contradicting the much smarter tone, when that sweet, hypnotic fusion of style and substance turns into a SWAT team joke that, I must admit was pretty darn awesome and fun, but gets to be overwhelming in its being so overstylized. A situation like that comes in every now and then following that scene, yet every time you do get something like that, you do still rather enjoy it, because it is so much fun, overstylized though, those moments may be; yet something that you might not have as much fun with as commonly is the slapstick humor. Now, the slapstick humor works more than it should and works more often than it should, but when it doesn't work, it's fairly annoying, even more so when you consider that this film should be above that. Of course, what seems to be the biggest problem in this film isn't the overstylizing, or the occasional contradiction of the clever uniqueness, but, believe it or not, editing that's all over the place, with some moments feeling a bit rushed or tacked on, or sequences that seem to go on forever. The film is not without its tropes in animated movies, but really, on the whole, this is one of the most unique animated numbers in quite a while, and certainly one of the best animated films of the year. ...Okay, now that's not saying too much, but it is definately worth saying, because through all of its missteps, contradictions and, well, my watching it well after Christmas, this is some good ol' fashion holiday magic, and very well-put together magic at that.
I don't know if it's the messy editing or just generally decent storytelling by Sarah Smith, but eitherway, the pacing on this boy is tight, with everything moving at a not always balanced, but generally slick speed, yet everything is still pulled back enough for you to really absorb everything, and boy, is there plenty of take in, particularly - nay - "especially" the animation, because this is some top-notch stuff. Very early on in the film, we get a pan-out shot that unveils Steve Claus' operation headquarters, and that massive, sweeping, startlingly well-detailed shot - topped off with Harry Gregson-Williams' excellent score - is absolutely awe-inspiring, and that's just the beginning of all of the magnificently-animated shots in this film, for every moment in this film is pumped with such life and energy in the animation, and with Ardmond Animation's claymation sensibilities having a clear influence on that, you're left with some very unique animation, all complimented by some mostly unique writing. Now, as I said, the film doesn't get too far without falling into the occasional trope, but more often than not, the film delivers on snap and wit in both dialogue and set pieces, with most of the jokes having such a cleverness that's not over anyone's heads, but sharp enough to hit for you wittier croud, which isn't to say that the humor is the only thing to enjoy about the way things are staged and directed, as you even get some well-handled emotion, especially towards the end, where you would find yourself hard pressed to not be genuinely touched by how sharply they manage to summon the familiar sensations reenacted at the resolution, but that doesn't mean that the attention to detail is all in the ending, because there's so much focus on all sorts of aspects throughout the film, particularly when it comes to characters. There's so much attention put into the family and mythology aspects, and it really gives you a very intimate look into the imagination that goes into creating this world so tightly, and while this interpretation of Santa is highly distinctive, few interpretations have been this detailed and, well, fascinating. All of that is certainly supported by the electric chemistry and colorful voice work between our leads, with everyone showing up for work, whether it be Hugh Laurie - who really gets that kind of "I Want What's Mine" sensibility - or Jim Broadbent - who really nails that classic Santa Claus charm -; but really, it's out leads that bring the most to the table, as far as voice acting goes. I've said it one... too many times and I'll say it again: James McAvoy is among today's great actors, and while he's certainly nothing to really inspire the creation of a "Best Voice Actor" category at the Oscars, he brings that classic charm that we've all come to know and love about him, and while a lot of the slapstick jokes are with the goofy Arthur Claus lead, the character would have been absolutely humiliating (Like that Arthur Chrismas knockoff in the Denny's Cookie Pancakes commercials), but with McAvoy coming in and effortlessly winning you over with his classic charm, you're attached to everything; and the same can be said about Bill Nighy, who's certainly not as unrecognizable as he was when he went Rattlesnake Jake in "Rango" (Okay, you can at least have a "Best Supporting Voice Actor" category for that one), but still embodies this cranky old has-been in such a funny and charismatic fashion, that you're every bit as drawn to him as McAvoy. Wow, I'm making this sound like it kicks the heck out of "Rango", when really, the most mind-blowing things about this film have to be James McAvoy hanging out with another character named Bryony (Only the one from "Atonement" had an "i" in the place of that first "y") and this Santa Claus being named...*snicker*... Malcom, but in the end, it's hard not to still be won over by this fun, charming Christmas experience... in about 11 months.
At the end of that special day - even though it happened last month -, the magic of the film is sometimes halted by the occasional family trope, as well as a deal of messily-edited moments, but you're quickly thrown back into the spirit by the colorful voice performances and spectacular animation that really compliments the generally witty, unique and sometimes touching writing and direction that leaves "Arthur Christmas" to stand as a delightful charmer, whatever the season.
3/5 - Good