THE Wallace and Gromit studio are back with a stab at seasonal CG fun in this week’s Arthur Christmas.
Christmas at the North Pole runs like a well-oiled machine. Santa (Jim Broadbent) is chauffeured around the world in a spaceship while the elves do the delivering and son Steve (Hugh Laurie) controls the entire operation with military precision.
But his bumbling, Christmas-mad second son Arthur, (James McAvoy) is more of a hindrance to the job of delivering presents than a help.
When a little girl looks to miss out on a gift due to an oversight, it is only Arthur who is willing to do everything he can to make sure no one wakes up without a present.
Helped by his grandfather (Bill Nighy), can going 'old-school' save Christmas?
Festive films have been hit (Elf) and (mostly) miss (Four Christmases, Deck The Halls, Nativity, etc) over the past ten years, but with its seaonal-soaked story Arthur Christmas could be a new festive family favourite.
Aardman Animations lose the ‘stop-motion’ look of Flushed Away to shoot for a more Pixar-esque visual style.
Although the exaggerated features of the characters bring a cartoon element to the film (adding to the tone while side-stepping the ‘blank empty eyes’ distraction of festive CG offerings like The Polar Express), the animation team up the ante when it comes to set pieces.
Whether dashing through the streets of Toronto or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the photo-realistic textures pop on the big screen, while frantic chases and carefully considered angles lend themselves perfectly to 3D.
But when it comes to effective Christmas movies, it’s all about the story.
The notion of Santa using a floating craft may seem like sacrilege to festive-movie purists, but Arthur Christmas wastes no time in drilling down to classic images and themes.
Rather well-worn concepts of Christmas spirit, the loss of innocence, and courage under pressure are all present, but Alan Partridge and Borat scribe Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith bring British comedic sensibilities to the table.
A cast brimming with British talent lend their vocal expertise admirably, whether contending with a dramatic/emotional moment or merely yelling a witty line 'off camera'.
McAvoy as Arthur occasionally drifts into irritating, but always pulls it back at the key moments.
But star of the show is Bill Nighy as Grandsanta, who throws out the best one-liners for the older audience members.
Aardman are certainly finding their feet with CG.
Though no competitor to the all-powerful Pixar, the animation house present slapstick humour, wry one-liners, edge of your seat action and a hefty dose of seasonal schmaltz and sentiment, all wrapped up in a big bow.
7/10 - A Christmas gift.