Coming in hot under fourth place is “Arthur Christmas” – my favourite quirky reimagining of the Claus familia. It contains a number of well-known voices, such as James McAvoy as the eponymous hero, Hugh Laurie as his older brother Steven and Bill Nighy behind the face of their gumpy grandfather. You may hear a familiar name when I mention Peter Baynham, who is one of its co-writers. Yesterday, I talked a little bit about his masterful cursing in “Bad Santa”, but this frosty Wednesday we’re turning a new page into the man’s skilful tales for kids.
It’s the peak of Christmas night and all children are blissfully sleeping. Elves storm their houses, leaving presents and warding off pets under the watchful command of Steven – Santa’s eldest son. Enthusiastically observing from North Pole’s mission centre is our own Arthur. He’s the most youthful Clause descendant, whose love for celebrations is purer than snow. Upon their father’s return, the boys celebrate hastily over turkey and mash, not realising one child has been missed. As soon as Arthur notices the mistake, he sets out on a journey across the globe to deliver the fateful pink bicycle. Grandsanta is the only one willing to help, excitedly tagging in on the ancient, wood sleigh, only to deliver comical confusion and grumpy remarks. The hours are pushing and sunlight will soon begin creeping in, but Arthur never gives up hope. No child should be left without a present on Christmas, regardless how hard the journey to their house may be. Despite suffering a multitude of detours around Canada, Africa and the open ocean, Arthur knows it will all be worthwhile. Will the Claus family pull together and finish that last mission as a team or will reindeer-loss and the American government get in the way of Christmas cheer?
What I find refreshing about this film is its constantly changing scenery. Unlike a fair share of Yule flicks, the story isn’t fixed in a single country or town, but rather alternates in unison with the diverse journey. Reeking havoc from Canada to Cuba, the companions escape narrowly from the eye of the police. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a giant inflatable Santa, whose belly gets in the way of their sleigh. Minutes later we’re found stranded in Tanzania, fighting off lions and only a fraction after that, Arthur is paddling a boat among the turbulent Pacific waves. There are no boundaries, but infinite horizons. There’s nothing more triggering to a child’s wonder-maker than the possibilities of an endless adventure stream. Sarah Smith, “Arthur Christmas”‘s director manages to create that sensation almost flawlessly.
And brace yourselves for a heart jab of cuteness at the sight of Bryony the elf. As is standard for most animations, we have a trusty minion that saves the day more than their crew ever knows. One of Santa’s tiny workers, who holds bragging rights to the ability of wrapping presents with only three piece of sticky tape, fits right into that place. She risks her job, hiding in the sleigh with the hopes of being utilised in Arthur’s mission. Sharing equal amounts of passion for installing happiness in the world, him and Bryony become best friends before their trip is even over.
Family is the key word of December after all. In the sea of gift wrap, evergreen trees and sparkly, red balls, our island of salvation is coming home to the people we love. “Arthur Christmas” is a showcase of those important connections we make not just through relatives, but to the world as well. Gooey to its very core, the script drips with sticky positivity and touching character development.
Arthur himself is a tall, skinny youngster, who seems frail enough to break. Aided by a pair of raindeer slippers and a fitting jumper, the character’s aura circulates strongly around charm. His voice is the one in every child, unreasonably optimistic and noble, unharmed by the harshest of boundaries in the name of true happiness. That’s what makes the boy so special. Nothing is about the present itself, nothing is about showing off and being on top. What counts the most is a smile, a hug, or a little, tiny gasp of joy upon the sight of a long-awaited dream.
Watching this film without the presence of a minor is completely acceptable and I myself have done it more times that I care to admit. Its lighthearted humour make for a chilled night in without weighing you down with any negative underlying dilemmas.
My snack recommendation for this treasure is a bowl of chocolate-covered pretzels and the necessary tub of “Phish Food”.