Review in a Hurry: Aardman animation, best known for the stop-motion clay adventures of Wallace & Gromit, presents a snazzy 3-D, computer-generated tale that explores how one Santa can deliver all those presents in one night. The answer, in 2011, is that Santa's son Steve has redesigned the North Pole as some kind of Mac Store complete with a Genius Bar of elves. While the system is nearly perfect at deploying thousands of elves to deliver gift-wrapped goodies all at the stroke of midnight they miss one little girl. So it's time for low tech to beat hi tech by way of Santa's other son...Arthur!
The story moves so fast that you might not notice that there's really only enough of it for half the film's running time. But with fun 3-D, witty dialogue and a truly heartwarming finale, you'll believe in Team Claus.
The Bigger Picture: Arthur (likeable James McAvoy), the humble son of Santa Claus, is filled with Christmas spirit. His brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is all about tablets, Bluetooths and a giant red hi-tech spaceship shaped like a sled. For Steve, a success rate of 99.9 percent is more than acceptable. Arthur believes in no presents left behind so he steals an old fashioned sleigh with magical reindeer to deliver that one present to that one little girl. But he only has hours to get from the North Pole to England.
Director Sarah Smith knows the key to Aardman stories is their hectic we-gotta-run-no-matter-what pacing. This film moves fast. Arthur and Co., including a retired Santa (hilariously grouchy Bill Nighy) and an expert "wrapper" elf named Bryony (Ugly Betty's Ashley Jensen), are constantly reminding us they've only got 12 hours, 15 minutes! before that English kid awakens to a tree with no gifts underneath. All that zipping from place to place (most of it via flying reindeers) makes for a fun rushed 3-D feel. Even if essentially, this is the whole film. Over and over.
Kids probably won't mind that the story is just a bunch of admittedly fun sequences strung together, but adults might start to look at their watch by the hour mark. All is forgiven though with a finale that has the Christmas spirit and manages to put a new spin on chimneys and ho ho ho's.
The script by Smith and Peter Baynham is clever without any self-referential gags like Shrek. The mostly British cast is perfect for the material. Jim Broadbent as Santa is just right as a well meaning but dopey Claus. Hearing McAvoy trade insults with Laurie has the energy of a children's version of a BBC production...or the "Beeb" if you're an Anglophile.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Speaking of, we love our Stateside Beebs, but why is Justin Bieber's special "Merry Christmas" music video played before the film instead of during the end credits? Annoying since there are clips from the film in it, which is the last thing we want to see when we're about to see the actual movie five minutes later.