I often here people bemoan, especially at this time of year, that there are no modern classic Christmas films, with Elf and Love, Actually, both released in 2003, being the ones brought up as the last "good" ones. Whenever this occurs, Arthur Christmas is my go-to response. If you're not familiar, it's Aardman's 2011 computer-animated release centring on the family lineage of the Santas and how they function in a modern world. Jim Broadbent voices the current Santa, Imelda Staunton is his wife, Bill Nighy is his retired father Grand-Santa and his two sons are ambitious, career-hungry Steve (Hugh Laurie) and clumsy yet enthusiastic and endearing Arthur (James McAvoy). When Steve's military-style technology loses track of one present at the end of Christmas Eve, Arthur takes it upon himself - with the help of Grand-Santa, a single reindeer and an elf from the wrapping division (Ashley Jenson) - to return the gift before its intended recipient wakes up.
|Arthur Christmas artwork from fanart.tv, uploaded by AndyForman001|
There are many scenes I could highlight here - the African exploits, the family board game, the climactic Cornwall-set chase - but instead I'm picking the film's opening scene, which really introduces us to the world and exactly how Santa and his team of elves manage to pull off the seemingly-impossible mission of delivering so many presents to so many children in such a short amount of time. Take a look:
To date this is Aardman's only fully computer-generated animation, whereas previously they worked within the stop-motion realm, painstakingly modelling endless figures and scenes, and imbuing them with life through the arduous animation process. Trying out this more digital approach does definitely lose something - the style is a little less charming, feels a little more processed - but it also allows for far greater scope and scale, and that's no more evident than in this opening, with hundreds of elves descending from Santa's mile-wide ship to deliver thousands of presents simultaneously. There's so much going on so quickly in every frame here that I honestly don't blame them for eschewing the more limited stop-motion format.
The intro answers a lot of questions as to how Santa might work in the modern world, tackling such issues as children in hospitals, sleeping in vans, apartment blocks and houses that don't have traditional fireplaces. Of course there's a lot of nonsense here with regards to the wrapped presents - for some reason the fully-functioning yet entirely encased slinky bothers me more than the inflating bouncy castle - and I love the homage to possibly the greatest scene from the greatest feature Aardman released, the train chase in The Wrong Trousers. Oh and for some reason the sleeping dog being left a gift-wrapped bone warms my heart to no end.