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Arthur Christmas Press Screening at Sony Animation Studios, London

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The 3D, CG-animated family comedy Arthur Christmas, an Aardman production for Sony Pictures Animation, at last reveals the incredible, never-before-seen answer to every child’s question: “So how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?”  The answer: Santa’s exhilarating, ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole. But at the heart of the film is a story with the ingredients of a Christmas classic – a family in a state of comic dysfunction and an unlikely hero: Santa’s youngest son, Arthur.

The film has an all-star British cast. James McAvoy (X-Men, Shameless) plays Arthur, Hugh Laurie (House) plays Steve, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter, Vera Drake) plays Santa, Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean) plays Grandsanta, Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter, Vera Drake) plays Mrs. Santa, Ashley Jenson (The Office, How to Train Your Dragon) plays Bryony the Wrapping elf.  It is also co-written and co-produced by Peter Baynham who wrote for Borat, I’m Alan Partridge and Russell Brand’s, Arthur.



Screening

The preview screening was presented by the Director and co-writer of the movie, Aardman’s Sarah Smith. There was still a week left of production so roughly 20 minutes non-3D footage was available and without background sound. Good news is that they are currently working on background music with the prolific composer Harry Gregson Williams (Chicken Run, Shrek, Metal Gear Solid).

‘Arthur Christmas’ doesn’t take long to jump into the action. A gigantic invisible red ship floats over a city in Europe and materialises like a ‘cloaked’ spaceship out of Star Trek. Dressed in high-tech gear and ski masks, sponsored by ‘Snowy’, thousands of elves descend silently down ropes into the streets to deliver Santa’s gifts using their tools and gadgets. The Naughty/Nice reader that measures how good a child has been, is a nice touch.

The scene is full of slapstick and great humour. There is a nail-biting moment in one of the child’s bedrooms that cause a state of emergency back at the North Pole. The Predator movie theme plays in the background to add to the intensity and humour of the scene. There were a lot more ‘adult’ references and jokes to keep parents and older viewers entertained.

When Santa and his Elves return from their gift giving, they are celebrated like heroic soldiers. Each elf has a badge on their arm representing the department they work in such as ‘Wrapping’. Santa is decorated with military like badges and has also ditched the traditional red woolly hat for a red beret.

The Santa family dinner reeks of the awkward disfunctionality that I’m sure many modern-day families are familiar with. Grandsanta represents the old school Christmas (the one we were brought up with) and Steve represents the more high-tech new school Christmas. Santa is neither here nor there but tends to agree with his favourite and the brains of the operation, Steve. Arthur is often ignored no matter how hard he tries to bring the family together.

Alarm bells ring when they discover that a child is without a present.

There is one quote from Steve that sums his character up in a nutshell and serves as a warning sign for the future of Christmas, “Christmas is not a time for emotion”.

The preview ends with a magical and unlikely partnership and the beginning of Arthur’s adventure to save Christmas.

After the screening we were given a Q&A session with Sarah Smith.

Q & A

The characters in Arthur Christmas are designed very differently to Aardman’s previous incarnations.

Sarah Smith reveals that Arthur’s adventure turns into a ‘road trip’ style movie which takes him to various continents, including Africa. She also said to look out for ‘Easter Eggs’ – references to Aardman’s previous movies, like a nod to the famous train chase in Wallace & Gromit’s – The Wrong Trousers.

Personally, I haven’t been convinced by most 3D movies and many times it feels like film studios are just looking to make a quick buck. However, Smith reassures us that many scenes such as Santa’s HQ and the more magical moments will look awesome in 3D.

Modern CG animation was a natural choice for the high-tech elements, special effects and sheer scale. For example, animating thousands of Elves using traditional stop motion methods would be terribly time-consuming compared to CG animation.

Having watched Aardman’s popular Wallace & Gromit movies, Chicken Run and their first CG animated film, Flushed Away, I was interested to know whether Aardman made a conscious effort to move away from those familiar character designs. Her answer was, ‘Yes’. The Aardman team was going for unusual features that embodied a quintessential British look. Arthur was intentionally designed as an odd looking fellow, not the typical cute cartoony character that you would find in most animations today. But this was balanced with soft floppy hair, an over-sized knitted jumper and huge cartoony slippers. This contrast gave Arthur the loveable ‘Awww’.

The characters in Arthur Christmas are designed very differently to Aardman’s previous incarnations.

Conclusion

I left Sony Pictures in London feeling excited like a small child with Christmas spirit in his heart. The press screening was short but sweet. A frantic and high-tech opening was balanced by the promise of traditional Christmas magic and adventure with a lot more Aardman humour. Sarah Smith was a passionate and engaging host and gave us a lot of insight into the story and production process. When Arthur Christmas is released (23rd Nov) it will have stiff competition from Dreamwork’s ‘Puss in Boots’ and Warner Bros ‘Happy Feet 2’, but I believe it is a potential Christmas no.1.

The Blu-ray/DVD is due to be released Christmas 2012.

Items mentioned in this article:

Arthur Christmas (DVD + UV Copy)

Arthur Christmas (DVD + UV Copy)

£4.62

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