November 27, 2011

THE BIJOU REVIEW: “Arthur Christmas”

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Written by: Mitch Salem


ARTHUR CHRISTMAS: Worth A Ticket – Yuletime Tidings With the Aardman Touch
As the Thanksgiving holiday box-office has started to be counted, it’s become fairly clear that there isn’t much of an audience, at least in the US, for ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. Which is too bad, because it happens to be one of the warmest and most sophisticated family entertainments around.

Part of the problem is no doubt the Aardman animation studio visual style, which has never been a tremendous hit in this country. Aardman is famed in the UK for their stop-motion Wallace & Gromit series, but although their shorts have been an Oscar magnet, the Wallace & Gromit feature made an anemic $56M in the US. (Aardman’s biggest US hit has been Chicken Run, with $106M.) The pop eyed, eccentric look of their characters just doesn’t seem to appeal to Americans, and Arthur Christmas, while computer animated rather than filmed with stop-motion, carries forward that style.
Arthur may also be a tough sell because of what sounds like an insipid plot: Arthur is the second and lesser son of the current Santa himself (voice of Jim Broadbent), the latest in a long family line of Santas. (Grandsanta, retired but very much alive, is voiced by Bill Nighy.) While technocrat brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is being groomed to take over the family business, goofy Arthur (James McEvoy) is relegated to answering letters from kids. But Steve doesn’t really have the Santa touch, and when he leads the way to accomplishing the massive Christmas operation by way of his high-tech gizmos and a genuine army of elves, and it turns out that by mistake one gift wasn’t delivered, he tosses it off to a rounding error. (As far as he’s concerned, it can always be delivered by FedEx a couple of days later.) Arthur, though, is agonized that a child may have missed her present, and he goes on a one-man (well two, if you count a semi-willing Grandpa) crusade to deliver the gift before sunrise.
It all sounds like one of the barrage of TV specials that will be airing on broadcast and cable networks between now and December 25. But Arthur has a wry, witty tone, equal parts cynical and sentimental, that sets it apart. The script by Sarah Smith (who also directed) and Peter Baynham is smart, inventive, and even suspenseful; it holds together both emotionally and as a narrative. The voices (which also include Imelda Staunton as Arthur’s mother and Ashley Jensen as an extremely determined elf) couldn’t be better.
With plenty of high-profile family movies on the way in the next few weeks, including the can’t-miss, sure to be awful Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Arthur Christmas will have to hope for some overseas love and discovery on home video. It’s worth the effort: not quite as mordant as Hugo, with a bit more for those over 10 than The Muppets provides. It’s a nicely wrapped piece of holiday tinsel.
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."