Akron Ohio News –

11/24/2011 – West Side Leader      

By Craig marks

Bryony is voiced by Ashley Jensen and Arthur is voiced by James McAvoy in “Arthur Christmas.” Photo: Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation at the screening I attended of the frenetic and sneakily funny “Arthur Christmas,” the movie was preceded by a video of Justin Bieber singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The version is nothing special and is most notable for Bieber including the words “shake it baby.” I’ll have to check, but I don’t think those lyrics were part of Fred Astaire’s famous rendition.

Like the stop-action perennial “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” which featured Astaire as the storytelling mailman, the computer-animated “Arthur” offers answers to the big Santa questions: who is he? how does he do it? Why can’t his workshop be seen on Google Earth? The answers come fast and furious, as does most everything else in “Arthur.”

The current Santa (Jim Broadbent), the latest in a long line of Kris Kringles, does the job in a craft resembling the 1980s-era Starship Enterprise. The ship is quite an upgrade from the one once used by his retired father (Bill Nighy), known as “Grandsanta.” he delivered his toys — which were lead-painted, as it’s noted several times — in a reindeer-powered wooden sleigh that’s considered a relic by one of his grandsons, Steve (Hugh Laurie). Steve is the field general of the high-tech toy-delivery operation and hopes to get the Santa gig upon Dad’s retirement, which he believes is imminent.

Santa’s other son, Arthur (James McAvoy), has no grand ambitions, other than to spread Christmas cheer. A clumsy chap, he answers letters from children when not getting in the way of the elves, who do their job in a highly efficient, Navy Seal-like manner. (They’re similar to the elves in the Disney “Prep and Landing” Christmas specials.) when it’s discovered that one child was missed by Santa, Arthur puts down his pencil and vows to deliver her a present himself.

The race to deliver the gift before Christmas morning will keep the young ones entertained, but what makes “Arthur” a pleasant-enough diversion for adults is the humor, some of it — such as the lead-paint references — coming from darker corners than you’d expect in a kids’ Christmas movie. Grandsanta, who could be mistaken for an old-time prospector, gets some of the most out-there lines. at one point, when he and Arthur are in dire straits, he implores someone to “have the decency to finish us off with a rock.” he also has something in his sleigh labeled “Elf Extractor,” which, for better or worse, he does not find reason to use during the movie.

“Arthur” was directed by Sarah Smith and produced by Aardman Animations, the British studio responsible for “Wallace and Gromit.” I saw the 3-D version of the movie, and be warned: there are so many scenes of an open sleigh dashing through the snow — and through the sky — that some Dramamine might come in handy. To use a phrase now in mr. Bieber’s musical vocabulary, you better watch out.

The movie, which opened Nov. 23, is rated PG for some mild rude humor.

*** (out of four)

Craig marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

     

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