The animated, 3-D Arthur Christmas introduces three generations of St. Nick's family: Weedy retired Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy, hogging the good lines), the obliviously ineffectual Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent), and his two sons, the North Pole's ultra-competent control-room manager and Santa's expected successor, Steve (Hugh Laurie), and his brother, Arthur (James McAvoy), a well-meaning simp who alone doesn't have an ego-based agenda. (The joke is that even the First Family of Christmas can't get along for the holidays.) Steve keeps the high-tech Christmas operation running — gifts are delivered by commando elves operating from a camouflaged mothership — but when one present goes accidentally undelivered, Arthur and Grandsanta set off on a mission in a vintage reindeer-hauled sleigh run on anti-gravity magic dust. The script, by director Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham — who've written previously for Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci — has copious laughs, an affecting saccharinity, and some marvelous bits of imagination, like a sprinkling of dust unleashed over the Serengeti that turns the sky into a constellation of jungle animals. Arthur was made, in co-production with Sony, by Aardman Animations, the U.K. company best known for Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit shorts, and the character animation has some of the same homely charm. Really it's a lovely bit of work, only marred by the completely cynical, cranked-out Justin Bieber video of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" tacked on the front for what can only be demo marketing.
Director: Barry Cook and Sarah Smith
Writer: Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith
Producer: Cheryl Abood
Cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton