Arthur Christmas
Sony Pictures Animation

It’s a week before Christmas, and all through the land, people are desperately looking for a new holiday movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or Gremlins or Die Hard or Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol or Elf, you understand … but they’ve all been around long enough that we know them backwards and forwards. And sure, revisiting a beloved movie can give one great pleasure … but the thrill is a little faded, you know?

Well, I’ve got something for you. Last year, Sony Pictures Animation released a genuine holiday treasure … but no one saw it. The movie was Arthur Christmas, which everyone naturally assumed would be a big-screen Christmas episode of the Arthur cartoon. Unfortunately, Arthur Christmas has nothing to do with that established property, and when people heard that they kind of shrugged and looked elsewhere for their 3D family moviegoing entertainment.

I’ll give you this: The title of Arthur Christmas is problematic outside of the United Kingdom and maybe Australia; it’s a pun on the English pronunciation of “Arthur,” which sounds a lot like “Father,” and thus sounds like “Father Christmas” if you say it quickly. And Santa Claus is known by the name Father Christmas in the UK … though the movie, which was produced by the English toon shop Aardman Animation, refers to him as Santa throughout. So the title was never gonna be an easy sell … but once you see the movie you’ll understand no other title would fit.

That’s because Arthur Christmas is a delight from beginning to end – a smart, sweet and utterly charming CG comedy about Santa’s nervous younger son trying to deliver a missed package to a little girl in England. She asked for a bike. It fell behind a shelf. And because young Arthur is a little on the obsessive side, he will put himself in mortal danger (repeatedly) to put things right.

Like all of Aardman’s features, Arthur Christmas features a magnificent voice cast that includes James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Laura Linney. And it’s made with the same love of eccentricity and silliness that distinguished Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Flushed Away and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. (None of those is particularly Christmassy, but you could do worse than watch them over the holidays, too.) The visuals are gorgeous, the characters sharply written, and the themes of the film are developed with intelligence and wit. It’s a delight from start to finish.

Arthur Christmas came out on disc last month. (The Blu-ray is particularly nice.) You have a whole week to catch up to it. I’m not making threats or anything, but if you choose to ignore it, you have no one to blame but yourself for that lump of coal.


E-mail Norman Wilner at houselightsup@hotmail.com