Western Animation / Arthur Christmas


Arthur Christmas is a 2011 CGI animated film produced by Aardman Animations. It is their second attempt at CGI and their first film produced in their partnership with Sony Pictures Animation.

The film is set on Christmas Eve, and at last reveals the answer to every child's question: "So how does Santa Claus deliver all those presents in one night?" It is thanks to Santa's ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole. It also turns out that being Santa Claus is an inheritable position, passed from father to son. Except this time, there are two sons who are prospective Santas: Arthur, whose heart is in the right place but is a bumbler, and his brother Steve, who is extremely efficient but more serious. Their father Malcolm, the current Santa, is little more than a figurehead who isn't familiar with how anything in his company works. When one out of the 2 billion presents is accidentally not delivered, it's up to Arthur to complete the mission - with a little help from his grandfather (the previous Santa Claus) and a plucky female elf named Bryony - before Christmas morning dawns and a child's heart breaks. This must be done, of course, without being discovered by the rest of the world. Naturally, this turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

The film's voice cast includes James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Malcolm, Ashley Jensen as Bryony and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta. The film was set for release on November 11, 2011, in the United Kingdom, and November 23, 2011, in the United States.

The official trailer can be viewed here.

Not to be confused with Arthur's Perfect Christmas, a 2000 Christmas Special with a talking bipedal aardvark.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abstract Scale: The weight of the load in Santa's sleigh, as seen in the opening, is measured in Playstations, of course.
  • Adorkable: Arthur, the title character. He's clumsy and awkward, but he's also very enthusiastic about Christmas and everything to do with it.
  • All-CGI Cartoon
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The elves are shown to be this for Arthur. He's a bit clumsy and slightly buffoonish (especially as compared to Steve, whom they all admire), so they say things behind his back like "Send him to the South Pole." Even his father isn't quite sure what to do with him. As shown during his Heroic B.S.O.D., he's fully aware of it.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Grandsanta's old pet reindeer acts much more like a dog, including wagging his tail and panting with his tongue out (though some species of deer do actually wag their tails). Averted with the other reindeer who pull the old sleigh, who act more or less like reindeer do in real life.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Steve, who takes his job very seriously and as a result can come across as very distant towards his family, including Arthur.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The level of devotion Peter the elf has to Steve is suspicious. He even gives him underwear as a Christmas present.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Clauses. Despite having British accents, they treat England as a completely foreign country, and they seem to be very long-lived (Malcolm has been the current Santa for 70 years, and Grandsanta is 136 years old). On the other hand, it's shown that the figure of Santa Claus isn't immortal and it's an inheritable position that's been passed down from father to son over the centuries.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: When several governments think Santa's sleigh is an alien invasion, and try to shoot it down.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Clause's through and through are still family, so the love for each other is obviously there, they just don't show it as often.
  • Badass Santa: While Steve isn't actually Santa, he more or less fills this role. Doubles as Badass in a Nice Suit, since his version of the costume is a Versace.
    • Grandsanta. He's been doing Christmas runs until 1941, and took twelve shots during World War II. It's important to note that it wasn't necessarily the Axis powers that shot him. The Germans and Italians were Christian, too.
      • Extra points in badassery considering that he performed his run with "six reindeer and a drunken elf." In other words, he had none of the advanced technology that his grandchildren does, and he still pulled it off!
  • Bears Are Bad News: The polar bear in the teaser trailer.
  • Bland-Name Product: The HOHO 3000 trackers are apparently manufactured by Snowy. Played for Laughs, given the fact that we see many more Sony products throughout the film.
  • Berserk Button: Never mess with the wrapping if Bryony is on duty!
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: This is what Arthur and Grandsanta do when they use "Eve", Grandsanta's old traditional sleigh that's pulled by actual reindeer.
  • Brick Joke: Grandsanta impresses Arthur by making a cloud snowman. Quite a while later as part of the news reports about the 'alien menace' we see it has morphed into a more terrifying shape on one of the North Pole news screens.
  • The Board Game: Apparently there's one of Christmas. The whole holiday.
  • Character Blog: There is a twitter account for someone called 'notanelf'
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tons. In approximately the order they're fired, Eve's 'camouflage' function allowing them to pretend to be a UFO, Arthur's electric slippers saving him from the lions (and the chihuahua), and then letting them divert the drone fighter, Gwen's bicycle giving Arthur a way to reach her house in time, and the S-1's underside night sky display giving the Santas a few extra minutes at Gwen's house.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Grandsanta's old pet reindeer sits in the back of the sleigh like a lump doing nothing the whole movie, right? Well, until all the other reindeer have gone missing and he manages to pull Eve through the final stretch.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bryony's present wrapping skills come in handy for a few scenes.
    • As does Arthur's skill at riding a bicycle. Although he finally learns to ride without stabilizers!
  • Christmas Elves: Of course. Rather more militaristic than standard-issue, though, and with an extremely complex rank system. They specialize in covert ops. Each and every one is devoted to the notion that all children deserve and must have a Happy Christmas. It borders on fanatical. This becomes a problem when Steve suggests that just maybe a single child doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, triggering a mass freak-out that almost results in the entire North Pole being destroyed. Oddly enough, they have varying racial backgrounds as well, since many of them have different skintones and accents.
  • Compromising Call: After crash landing Santa's sleigh in the Serengeti, Arthur manages to put a pride of lions to sleep by waving his musical slippers and singing. Afterward, the north pole tries to communicate with them via the sleigh. The resulting noise wakes the lions, leading Arthur and company to make a hasty escape.
  • Cone of Shame: Worn by Grandsanta's reindeer.
  • Cool Sleigh: The S-1. A couple miles long, with flawless camouflage, capable of traveling seven million miles in a single night. And it runs on milk and cookies!
    • Eve is too, in her own dilapidated, steampunky way. Even at a hundred and seventy years old, she's more powerful than any other aircraft aside from the S-1. She's even space-capable.
  • Cringe Comedy: Steve accidentally giving the replacement bike to the wrong child and then awkwardly attempting to take it back.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: All elves of different divisions are very specifically trained for that division. Bryony is trained only for gift wrapping, so it doesn't occur to her to use her HOHO for navigation sooner because she's only ever used it to store pictures of bows.
  • Determinator: Gwen will get that bike if Arthur has anything to say about it, dammit.
    • And Bryony will not see a present being delivered unwrapped it, even if she has to wrap it while Arthur still needs to use it.
  • Disney Death: Grandsanta. In an extremely touching moment, he sacrifices himself to protect Arthur - but it turns out he outfell the explosion and shows up a couple minutes later in a wheely bin.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The high-tech actions of the elves at each landing site are a bit like Prep and Landing turned Up to 11.
    • The board game scene. Who hasn't played Monopoly and argued over who gets to be the racecar?
  • Doing In the Wizard: There is very little actual magic in the movie, besides the pixie dust that enables flight. Even the original sleigh had mechanisms in it. (Elfin "magic" in general seems to be a case of Clarke's Third Law in this setting.)
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Clauses; they're even described that way in one of the official synopses of the film. Steve and Grandsanta are constantly battling over the way to handle the operation, Malcolm is relatively out of touch with everything and doesn't realize that he's become nothing more than a figurehead, Margaret is the Only Sane Man who tries to maintain order, and Arthur...just wants everyone to be happy. By the end of the film, they are.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Arthur snaps out of his Heroic B.S.O.D. by realizing that who delivers the gifts and how are not what's important; as long as it gets to the child, the spirit of Santa Claus came through.
  • Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: According to the statistics, averted. They deliver two billion presents, but only to six hundred million children out of the world's 1.9 billion.
  • Genki Girl: Bryony.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The movie has at least four references to drinking, and two references to children drinking. (Though in the latter case this is used mostly as more evidence that Grandsanta wasn't quite the epitome of virtues he prefers to remember himself as.)
  • Grumpy Old Man: Grandsanta. He's 136 years old, and doesn't hesitate to act like it.
    Grandsanta: "They used to say it was impossible to teach a woman to read!"
  • Happily Ever After: Everyone, in the epilogue. Even Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, B-Bambi, John, You With The White Ear, You, and You.
  • Happily Married: Malcolm and Margaret - Santa and Mrs. Claus, that is.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Arthur suffers an intense one after he realizes his father, Malcolm, doesn't truly live up to the mythic image of Santa, being instead a doddering figurehead.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: A Zig-Zagging Trope answer: The Santas over the years have various methods, ending in the coda with several thousand reindeer pulling a gigantic sleigh-shaped ship, as well as having an army of extremely well-organized and co-ordinated elves visit every single house, with Santa placing the last present of the operation himself.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Arthur wears one. Willingly. (Granted, tacky Christmas sweaters are part of the season's magic for some.)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Grandsanta, though he appears grumpy and has a very self-centered ego, telling his grandson that he cares about the kid while really just wanting to prove he is right, he later shows to genuinely love and care about Arthur, and deep down, the rest of his family as well.
    • To a little lesser extent, Steve. Steve is a guy who wants to keep Christmas up and running and does want his family to acknowledge his accomplishments and respect him for it, understandably so. By the end of the movie he shows he really does love his family.
  • Legacy Character: The title of Santa Claus. The opening shot demonstrates this trope beautifully as it pans across the wall full of portraits, showing us how the costume and the man have changed over the centuries (naturally, it's shown that Saint Nicolas was the very first Santa).
  • Masquerade: For various reasons, the sacred rule any acting Santa must follow is to not be seen. (Secret treaties and the extremely high technology level the Elves enjoy are the closest explanation we get to the reasons behind this rule.) This brings the world to the brink of an alien invasion panic when Arthur and Grandsanta are seen.
  • Matrix Raining Code: Christmas themed symbols over the closing credits.
  • Meaningful Echo: "There's always time for a bow."
    • "I'll be the candle."
  • Mission Control: Steve's job is essentially this, as he and his team of elves make sure the gift-delivering operation on Christmas Eve runs smoothly for Malcolm and the elves accompanying him. However, it's made pretty clear that Steve's the one doing all the real work and Malcolm has essentially become a figurehead. In the end, Steve still has this role as Chief Operating Officer while Arthur becomes the new Santa.
  • Mrs. Claus: Played by Imelda Staunton, she's definitely the side of the family that Steve got his uber-competence from, and apparently handles the political side of the Claus operation (if that Treaty with Greenland she has to negotiate is any indication). She apparently spends her downtime taking lessons online, to the point where she can do most anything without trouble.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Steve drinks a lot of espresso, and even gets a chair with a dispenser.
  • Nice Guy: Arthur is good-natured, and does have the heart, spirit, and the effort to keep Christmas alive in everyone.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: When Arthur and Steve finally get in touch, Arthur asks that his brother help them deliver Gwen's bike. The elves respond positively, calculating statistics that prove the mission is possible. But just when Steve is on the cusp of giving in, one of the elves declares that "Arthur and Grandsanta would be the heroes of the night!" Steve, being a "Well Done, Son!" Guy, cannot abide sharing any glory, and demands that the sleigh team come home immediately.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Delivering toys with an army of elves armed with high tech and ninja stealth and reflexes. And that's just the first ten minutes.
  • No Antagonist: The closest thing is the respective egos of Steve, Grandsanta and, to a smaller extent, Malcolm.
  • Noodle Incident: Exactly what happened on Grandsanta's last trip. He almost caused World War Three during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Not So Different:
    • Malcolm and Arthur make the same screw up in trying to deliver toys.
    • Despite polar opposite ideals, Steve and Grandsanta are both prideful, militaristic, believe their achievements go unrecognized, and are nigh impossible to be reasoned with when they decide on something.
  • Older Is Better: What Grandsanta believes. Steve, however, is all about newer is better and (he even says during the movie) Bigger Is Better. This pretty much constitutes one of the major conflicts of the film. Arthur, in contrast, has no problem with the new technologies and finds himself rather dubious and terrified when introduced to the pitfalls of the traditional methods, but is very much attached to the traditional ideals of the Santa mystique: That somewhere in the world, there's a wonderful man who knows and dearly loves each and every child, wanting nothing more than for them to be happy. When he realizes his father Malcolm doesn't truly embody these ideals, he's absolutely shattered, suffering a temporary Heroic B.S.O.D..
  • Old Master: despite his crotchety-ness and apparent senility, Grandsanta reveals himself to be this to an extent, calming eight reindeer who've never flown before with naught but a whistle and maneuvering the sleigh with great skill and dexterity. Makes sense, given that he had to fly it during some of the most turbulent times in human history.
  • Papa Wolf: While he's no more effective at it than anything else, Malcolm finally gets his rear in gear upon learning that Arthur has run off to deliver the forgotten gift.
  • Passing the Torch: The film ends as Malcom passes on the Santa title to Arthur.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Arthur, Grandsanta, Bryony and the old reindeer.
  • Red Herring: With so many animated films these days having a twist villain, you'd expect there to be a real villain in the film. There isn't (unless you count Old Doom-laden Scottish Elf because of what he almost did in a panicked overreaction).
    • In one scene, Grandsanta tells Steve that the only way that he'll get to be Santa is if he bumps his father off. Neither one is really a villain either (though Grandsanta is admittedly off his rocker and Steve winds up having to go through a lesson in humility throughout the film).
  • Running Gag: Arthur's slippers.
  • Saving Christmas: On a small scale for most of the movie. Then Old Doom-laden Scottish Elf convinces the elves to start of an 1816-style North Pole shutdown and the stakes get higher...
    • The whole point of the film is that even one child's happy Christmas is worth fighting for.
    • Parodied when the military confuses Grandsanta's sled for a UFO and mobilizes to destroy it in an attempt to stop a Christmastime "Alien Invasion". They even call the trope by name once they succeed.
  • Shout-Out: There are a few shout outs to other Aardman films in the movie. For example:
    • When Steve enters Gwen's house to deliver the bicycle, he steps on a Shaun the Sheep toy.
    • Gwen has a Chop Socky Chooks poster in her room.
    • One of the elves in the opening montage puts model train tracks down in the same fashion as Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.
    • In a Sony-related example, the first "waker" kid has an Open Season poster in his room.
    • "Christmas: The Board Game" is obviously based on Monopoly, even having similar pieces.
    • During the opening montage, two parents can be seen watching The Snowman.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: That elf in the trailers really wasn't helping his cause.
  • Subbing for Santa: What Arthur thinks he's doing. Until he realizes that Santa is whoever delivers the presents, not necessarily a specific person.
  • Tempting Fate: Steve saying Grand-Santa is "too old to be getting into trouble."
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The sum of Grand Santa's speech to Arthur as they first pull out of the North Pole.
  • Trade Your Passion for Glory: Three generations of Clauses had forgotten that it's about the children, more than themselves. Grandsanta wants to prove to Steve that the old traditional way of delivering presents is superior, Malcolm still wants the children of the world to love him and is in denial that he's too old to keep being Santa, and Steve only sees children as statistics and isn't very good at dealing with them on a personal level.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Evil is a stretch, but Peter is the only elf who does not have the devotion to children the rest of the elves fanatically exhibit. Like Steve, he sees them as statistics.
  • We All Live in America: In Denmark, we see that people have a turkey in the oven come Christmastime, Christmas stockings hanging by the fireplace and Santa not showing up until everyone has gone to bed. That's not how a Danish Christmas works. To be fair, there are a lot of things the film did get right, such as the German custom of leaving shoes out instead of stockings, and even a quick reference to the Finnish myth that Santa lives in Lapland.
    • Also, the movie shows the Centre in Toronto as being spelled as "Center," the American spelling of centre.
    • Screenwriter/Co-Director Sarah Smith explains their awareness of differences in Christmas celebrations internationally, and why certain things were ignored in this interview.
  • The Unfavorite: It is implied Steve's need to be acknowledged by Malcolm is rooted in a belief that he's this to the children of the world.
    Malcolm: "This is about that pool table, isn't it? I told you, you should have written to me."
    Steve: "I was eight! You're my dad!"
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Arthur, at first.
    • Steve is this, such how he views Malcolm's attempts to deliver Gwen's present in this way.
    Steve: "Forget about the 2 billion things I did right today. Let's focus on the one thing I didn't."
    • When his dad finally gives him recognition, he realizes he wanted that even more than being Santa.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Women Are Wiser:
    • Mrs. Santa aka Margaret is the only member of the Claus family that is not blinded by the pride or hero-worship the men suffer from.
    • Her obsession with pristine gift wrapping aside, Bryony the elf is the most level-headed member of the "Deliver Gwen's Present" sleigh team.
  • You Are Not Ready: Steve himself admits he's not the one to be the next Santa at the end of the film and allows Arthur to succeed their father, having been impressed by his determination in getting Gwen's present delivered in a timely fashion and learned a lesson in humility in the process.
  • You Are Number 6: To Steve, the little girl who was overlooked is a multiple-digit number, illustrating that he views children as statistics rather than people. To Arthur, however, she's Gwen. It's indicative of their jobs; Steve is the one who utilizes technology to make the entire operation run efficiently, while Arthur actually answers the letters children write to Santa and thus engages with them on a personal level.
  • Youngest Child Wins: In the end, it's Arthur who becomes the new Santa Claus instead of his older brother Steve, though the epilogue reveals that Steve has become Chief Operating Officer and is happy with his job.