Arthur Christmas - James McAvoy
Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) with hundreds of elves and the 'Star Trek' like sleigh © 2011 Sony Pictures Animation

Can Aardman, of Wallace and Gromit fame, maintain the magic and charm of its movies without the plasticine? Judging from the completely-CGI Arthur Christmas, the answer seems to be yes.

Like all Aardman films this takes a ‘silly’ idea. Here it’s the idea that one man can deliver presents to all the children in the whole world, overnight. In the Aardman world it’s easy to believe that this could actually work!

The old idea was to get a sleigh, attach some reindeer and add a sprinkling of magic. But things move on and we have a Star Trek-like spaceship, and computers running a high-tech operation.

Arthur Christmas - Bill Nighy
Scene stealer Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) and his old sleigh Eve © 2011 Sony PIctures Animation

There are many main characters. Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is, as you might imagine, very likable but is a bit ‘past it’ and starting to lose the plot. Steve (Hugh Laurie), Santa’s oldest son, is the brains behind the high-tech operation. He’s very swish and has a goatee beard in the shape of a Christmas tree (of course he has – love it!). Arthur (James McAvoy) is Santa’s youngest, very enthusiastic but clumsy, and the best of the lot is Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) who steals the show. It’s an internationally famous, and British, cast and the ‘Britishness’ pours out.

The plot involves a child’s undelivered present and the attempt to deliver it on time. In the process there is the question of who should succeed Santa, the highly organised Steve or the clumsy, but passionate, Arthur.

In the process we are treated to such Aardman gems – incidental to the plot, but helping to bring it alive – such as changing ‘milk and cookies’ into bio-fuel, and their smart phones being the ‘Ho-ho 3000’ model, as well as the elves reflecting modern day teenagers, with studs in their eyebrows and waxed tufted hair.

The CGI is everything we expect of animation technology these days and, yes, the production team does go overboard with hundreds of elves, a somewhat CGI trademark these days. Thankfully, the 3D just adds to the charm and gives the characters a rounded (modelling clay?) feel. The CGI is never overused, only serving to make certain sections stand out, which is surprise for me as I usually normally hate the use of 3D these days.

On the downside, when Grandsanta and Arthur get lost so does the film’s plotting, but this soon passes and the film regains its flourish with a grand, if predictable, end. Overall, though, the script by Peter Baynham and writer/director Sarah Smith is well conceived, but what really adds the icing on the cake it is trademark Aardman attention to detail and the observational gags. Who would have thought ‘quantitative easing’ would appear in a film like this? Like all Aardman films, this is an intelligent film that all age ranges can, and will, enjoy.

[Rating: 4 Stars]

Arthur Christmas is released on Wednesday November 23rd, 2011 in time for Thanksgiving. It was released in the UK last week November 11, 2011.