Direction: Sarah Smith
Cast: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent
He's finally arrived at our multiplexes, never mind the delay of a fortnight. One of the livelier recent big-screen fantasies to feature Santa Claus, Arthur Christmas is right up there with previous yuletide capers like Elf and The Polar Express.
A great deal of the film's appeal is due to the imaginative storyline and visual ingenuity of the animators at the Bristol-based Aardman studios. Attempting to move in on territory dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks, this is also their first foray into 3D.
Staying true to its creators' U.K. roots, the film's vocal cast is a veritable who's who of British talent. Jim Broadbent voices the reigning Santa with characteristic aplomb. A doddering technocrat with 70 years experience, he presides over a high-speed one-night present-delivery system.
His million-strong work force of elves, however, discovers one toy left undelivered. Santa's oldest son and aspiring successor (dubbed in appropriately haughty tones by Hugh Laurie) couldn't be bothered about the oversight.
It's now up to Arthur, his good-natured younger sibling (McAvoy), to ensure that a pink bicycle is delivered to the present-less little girl by the time she wakes up on Christmas morning. Accompanied by his grumpy 136-year-old grandfather (veteran comic Bill Nighy) and an elf who's an expert at wrapping gifts (delightfully voiced by Ashley Jensen), they embark on an escapade in a rickety old sleigh.
The script, co-authored by director Sarah Smith, delivers big laughs while operating just as nicely on a more emotional level. The design, artwork and background details are beautifully rendered.
The supporting cast includes Imelda Staunton as the ever-loving Mrs. Santa.
At times, though, the narrative appears a bit stretched to fit the hour and 40 minutes running time.
But this is a minor complaint. Ultimately, it's well worth our while to spend time in the cheerful company of Arthur Christmas.