ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Dir. Sarah Smith, 2011)
Aardman Animations, the home of Wallace and Gromit, takes another step further away from clay animation with this 3D CGI holiday spectacular that roots for an underdog who wants no child to be left behind this Christmas without a present.
The underdog is Santa Claus's youngest son, the lanky accident-prone Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), who gets in the way of his brother Steve's (Hugh Laurie) high tech military operation-stlye method of distributing gifts throughout the world from a ginormous STAR WARS-style air cruiser with a war room-esque bridge manned by elves.
Steve is primed to take over the Santa business, but his father (Jim Broadbent) announces that he's not stepping down just yet from his position at the North Pole. Meanwhile, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), the oldest living Santa from a long line of St. Nicks, gripes about the newfangled technology calling Steve "a postman with a spaceship."
Arthur discovers that their "Christmas Accomplished" banner is premature as one present was not delivered, and with the help of Grandsanta and his oldschool sleigh, a spunky elf from the giftwrap battalion (Ashley Jensen), and, of course, flying reindeer, he sets out to right the wrong and save the day - or at least one child's day.
Like many 3D productions (with the mighty exception of Martin Scorsese's HUGO), the in-your-face imagery looks kind of cool at first, but that sensation fades fast. I wouldn't recommend spending the extra money, unless you happen to be a diehard fan of the 3D format.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS has a lot of entertainment value, especially when it's satirizing the ridiculous logistics of Santa's one night a year occupation, but it feels more frantic than funny at times, and the stakes don't feel high enough.
It's still likable enough as a lark, though the premise of a lovable loser that wins out because of his purity has been done ad nauseam.
However, kids will be too caught up in all the swirling shininess on screen to care.