For DVD reviews (not including re-releases) I want to take a slightly different approach to my cinema reviews, splitting them in two: the first section to discuss what I initially thought of the film; the second to talk about what I thought on seeing it again. This way it will hopefully show whether these animations stand up to repeat viewing, as I’m always more enthusiastic in the cinema. It’ll also mix up my usual reviewing style and turn it into a more personal reaction than the cinema reviews (they will be shorter, too, so people might read the whole thing). They will be a sort of re-review. In this case I enjoyed it just as much but keep watching the site for a film when my opinion changed significantly.
First Impression: Watching this in the cinema was an absolute pleasure, as I was surrounded by its target audience – families – as well as my friend who is slightly grumpy. To be in an room full of people laughing and getting excited made this one of the nicest surprises of last year. I’m not normally a fan of Christmas films at all – far too saccharine and often missing a lot of what Christmas is about – but Aardman are an ever dependable studio and Arthur Christmas managed to win over both this cynic and my slightly grumpy friend. It was a smart, funny film with enough jokes to keep it zipping along at the pace of a super-sled, and it ended with a message that everyone should be happy. It was no surprise that I left the cinema with a big grin on my face.
Second Impression: Thankfully, this is just as funny and warm on repeat viewing, and given the dearth of genuinely good Christmas films out there, this looks set to become a seasonal classic. A second viewing also shows the superb craftsmanship that has gone into the film. Aardman, the geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit and, more recently, The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists, make their second foray into computer animation, eschewing their lovable hand-made look for something a lot slicker. The last time they did this, in Flushed Away (a film I did enjoy), they kept the traditional ‘Aardman look’, of wide mouths and bulging eyes, but in the CG landscapes it looked slightly incongruous. This time, now under the banner of Sony, not Dreamworks, they have gone for a totally different look. And it really works.
Although it feels like a far glossier film thanWallace and Gromit, the creative bods at Aardman have kept two essential elements that make the studio so great: memorable characters and inventive jokes. So although there are no thumb prints on them, the Christmas family are full of character, with lively, interesting faces and superb voice work bringing them to life. The standout is Bill Nighy as the wrinkled patriarch Grandsanta, but the whole cast is an embarrassment of riches, featuring James McAvoy, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Laurie making up the rest of the family and all putting in superb work. Arthur Christmas, therefore, is one of the most impressively cast and realised animations of the last two years. But it’s also really funny, with the elves chipping in loads of hilarious throwaway lines and a string of inventive visual jokes that lovingly poke fun at all the traditions of Christmas. The opening present-delivery sequence alone makes the film worth watching.
That’s whyArthur Christmas works; like the title character, it’s funny and daft, but hasn’t lost sight of the wonder of Christmas, even with ridiculous slippers and jumpers that come with it. It knows that a lot of Christmas is a little bit naff, but it loves it anyway.
Extras: An ‘Unwrapping Arthur Christmas’ documentary that spends the most part of it explaining the characters and the plot. So if you’ve just seen the film and have a basic grasp of narrative, it’s pointless. Some other docs go into a bit more detail that are just progress footage with voiceovers explaining the processes. They are remarkable for one moment when the narrator describes the opening sequence as cinema verité.
There are also two documentaries on the Justin Bieber song that plays over the credits. For obvious reasons, I didn’t watch these.