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December 1, 2011

'Arthur Christmas' worth a watch

There are certain movies that people will watch year after year after year during the holiday season.

"Arthur Christmas" isn't likely to become the next "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story," but it is well worthy of at least one viewing. The animated film is energetic, clever and occasionally heartwarming.

Created by Aardman Animations, the studio behind the "Wallace and Gromit" cartoons, "Arthur Christmas" eschews Claymation-style animation for the more standard CGI, but it maintains the familiar wry British wit.

Giving a fresh take to the Santa Claus legend, the film quickly explains the eternal question of how Santa can travel the globe in one night: He uses a giant spaceship and armies of well-trained commando elves.

It also turns out that Santa is a job handed down from father to son over the generations. The current Santa (Jim Broadbent) is getting up there in years — he's mostly now a doddering figurehead who lets the elves do all the heavy lifting — and waiting in the wings is his eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie).

Steve is a militarily precise leader, but lacks compassion. When one girl in England is left without a Christmas present, he shrugs it off as statistically insignificant. His lovably klutzy younger brother, Arthur (James McAvoy), however, is a full believer in the magic of Christmas.

Armed with an old-fashioned sleigh, some reindeer, a gift-wrapping elf and his long-retired, off-his-rocker Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), he sets out on a madcap journey to right the wrong.

"Arthur Christmas" is fast-moving and visually inventive. Funny little things are happening on the edge of every scene. The film is also warm and corny, but endearingly so for the most part.

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