Being from Minnesota originally, I am no stranger to snow. However, I have never seen actual snow on the ground in Los Angeles until yesterday afternoon at the Sony Pictures Animation facility in Culver City, California. No, hell didn't freeze over or anything drastic like that, but actual snow on the ground was just a small part of the festivities for the studio's Arthur Christmas event. Despite all of the other kid-friendly activities like coloring and face painting, the children really seemed enamored with the snow. I guess that's kind of like getting a child a huge Christmas present... and then all they play with is the box.
I was invited to this event to watch the first 30 minutes of Arthur Christmas, which hits theaters on November 23. Before the footage, we were shown the new trailer, which debuted earlier today and gives you a good sense of what this movie is all about. Thankfully, this does not seem to be one of those movies where all the good stuff is found in the trailer, because I quite enjoyed the first half hour of Arthur Christmas.
The footage starts out just like the trailer does, with a young girl in England writing her letter to Santa Claus. The excerpt from the trailer makes it sound like any precocious child from any Christmas movie from any year, but this isn't quite the case. This version is very much the 21st Century version of a child's letter to Santa Claus, and it's actually pretty damn funny. The child rattles off a barrage of questions, some we've heard before ("Are you really real?"), some not so much ("If you really live on the North Pole, why can't I find your house on Google Earth?"), and it's a great way to get the movie started.
We then segue to the title character Arthur (James McAvoy), who is basically the black sheep of the family, despite his best intentions. After bouncing around in several different departments, Arthur seems to enjoy his new post in the Letters department, where he keeps track of all the letters children write to Arthur's father, Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) himself. These first few minutes also show us how massive the scope of this high-tech North Pole really is. Hundreds upon hundreds of elves man computer stations, planning out every detail of Christmas Eve, and a gigantic spaceship-like craft (complete with a cloaking device) drops an army of rappelling elves down to deliver presents, although they only have 18.14 seconds per house to get the job done. While Santa is still there at every move, he is really just a symbol of the holiday, with the whole operation being run by Santa's eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie, whose voice you won't recognize at all if you're used to his House M.D. cadence), a high-tech guru who has aspirations of putting on the big red suit himself.
Somehow, they manage to get the job done, despite a few close calls like a child waking up while Santa hides near the bed, but a glitch occurred in this fancy system: one child was actually missed, and, wait for it... yes, it is the little British girl who we saw at the very beginning. While Steve brushes it off, Arthur, who wants every single child's Christmas to be perfect, and is determined to deliver this one last present, even though there are only a few hours left before the sun rises. Enter the crotchety Grandsanta, voiced hilariously by Bill Nighy, who did things the old-fashioned way, you know, with a sleigh, reindeer and, of course, magic powder. Grandsanta persuades Arthur to partake in this mission and off they go to deliver the last Christmas present before the young girl wakes up and loses all her faith in the holiday.
I wasn't expecting to hate Arthur Christmas when I first walked onto the Sony lot, but I honestly wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did. There were just as many young kids in attendance as there were adults, and it was interesting to hear the laughter coming in waves after both adult and kid jokes. Bill Nighy's Grandsanta looks to be quite the scene-stealer, and he delivers some wonderful bits, such as this gem when Arthur says their impending mission is impossible: "They used to say it was impossible to teach women to read." Priceless. They really do take your garden-variety animated holiday movie and turn it on its ear, putting a 21st Century spin on the fabled North Pole operation of Christmas, with plenty of adult fun sprinkled into this kid-friendly tale.
Arthur Christmas hits theaters on November 23, and if you're looking for a different kind of Christmas movie this holiday season (and the kids aren't old enough to watch Bad Santa yet), then this certainly seems like one to check out.