I also admire the fact that the film retains a distinctly British personality, and the kind of odd, eccentric character design we’ve come to expect from Aardman. There is nothing remotely conventional about the look of these figures, including Santa Claus, which reminds us that we’re watching a cartoon—not a replica of real life. (Credit goes, at least in part, to Peter De Seve, the gifted artist and illustrator who has done design work for Blue Sky and Pixar as well.)
The voice cast (which also includes Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Claus and Ashley Jensen as a determined elf named Bryony) is so exceptional that simply listening to' Arthur Christmas' is a treat. If there were an award for best animated voice ensemble they would win in an instant.
The opening sequence, establishing the methodology of Santa and his army of elves, is a bit frantic, especially in 3-D, but once the story-proper begins the staging and timing are right on the money. If I had my druthers I’d prefer seeing all Aardman films populated with clay figures like Wallace and Gromit, but I can’t complain when this movie makes such engaging use of CGI.
It doesn’t seem possible after such an unexceptional year that we could get three wonderful family films (this 'Hugo', and 'The Muppets') in the same week, but I am not inclined to look this gift horse in the mouth. Let’s just say that our holiday presents have arrived early.