Arthur Christmas [Blu-ray]

As is the case with most recent movies from Aardman Studios, Arthur Christmas, was not as popular in theaters as it should be (see The Pirates! Band of Misfits). It’s probably one of the best Christmas movies to be released in the last 20 years. It’s clearly better than Fred Claus, at the very least! Use the Blu-ray release to put this in your Christmas rotation. The magic of Christmas. Losing it, finding it…most Christmas movies come down to that concept and the computer animated Arthur Christmas is no different. What is different from most of the usual Christmas related dreck, is that this movie is visually stunning, funny, and heartfelt without being sappy or derivative. It’s just great.

The biggest threat to the magic of Christmas in Arthur Christmas is Santa Claus himself. Well, not just Santa (Jim Broadbent), but the whole Santa dynasty. The Santa job is passed on from father to son. The current aging and somewhat disengaged Santa got the job from crotchety “Grandsanta” (Bill Nighy) and will someday pass it on to his son, Steve (Hugh Laurie). Because giving away toys to billions is such a huge job, Santa has to rely heavily on Steve, who runs the thousands of elves with military like efficiency. Steve puts getting the job done ahead of Christmas spirit. Only Santa’s other son, Arthur (James McAvoy), who works answering letters to Santa by hand, has any trace of the real magic of Christmas in his heart.

The plot, of course, brings a crisis to the North Pole. Santa’s distraction and Steve’s efficiency combine to miss one child, who won’t get the bike she wants. They decide that one child isn’t all that important, a concept that Arthur just can’t get behind. So he and Grandsanta hitch up the old sleigh (Santa and Steve do everything in a giant spaceship these days) and make sure no child gets left behind…errr…left out!

The resulting trip is both hilarious and touching as Arthur and Grandsanta are mistaken for aliens and attacked by lions in Africa, while trying to get from the North Pole to Cornwall without the benefit of a current map. The sleigh ride is visually magical and the level of the detail both at the North Pole and on the trip is astounding. Some of the jokes are the garden variety slapstick but others are more subtle and equally funny. McAvoy’s Arthur does have a bit too much of the bumbler in him, but his pure joy is a beautiful thing to watch. The performances of McAvoy, Nighy, Laurie, and Broadbent are perfect and the Aardman touch is everywhere.

The movie is supported by the simple belief that Arthur has the magic of Christmas and understands the importance of every child. That sounds like something for a sappy Hallmark special, but it’s so much better than that. This is one to put alongside It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and A Christmas Carol as one of your annual Christmas traditions. I hate to say anything negative about this great movie, but I have to say that the extras in the Blu-ray release are pretty…ummmmm….crappy? That’s the word…crappy. The film itself is great and it’s visual and audio presentations are just what you could hope for, but the level of extras just sucks.

First off, you are spared the steam-punk influenced video of Justin Bieber singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that appeared with the theatrical release of the movie. Unless it’s in an Easter egg, it’s not here. That’s addition by subtraction in my book. Unfortunately, there is also a lot else that is not here. Primarily, any interesting extras!

“Un-Wrapping Arthur Christmas” is the most substantive item, and it’s just a promo film meant to give the basic outline of the story. At 13 minutes, it includes interviews with the cast as they explain their characters, but it doesn’t give much behind-the-scenes info and if you’ve watched the movie, it’s not really interesting. It might be alright if it were paired with some more in-depth technical extras or a commentary track, but no such luck.

You do get a peak backstage segment with “Progression Reels” which shows how various scenes were put together from concept art to final product. The level of detail in each scene is pretty amazing. In total it also lasts about 13 minutes and includes four scenes or locations as well as a five-minute segment on the overall look of the film. The reasons for going with computer animation rather than stop motion are discussed. It’s probably the only thing besides the movie itself that anyone will want to watch. If you wonder about the amount of work that goes into computer animated films, this will give you some ideas.

The only other extra is optimistically called “Elf Recruitment Video.” It’s really a trailer for the movie but it’s in the form of a recruiting film for the military-like elves. But…well…it’s a trailer. The package also comes with a DVD and electronic copy of the movie so you can play it on your many devices. It’s worth picking up despite the paucity of extras. Arthur Christmas should be a regular part of your Christmas rotation.