For those of you unaware of Arthur Christmas, the film follows Santa's family composed of Santa, his father, his wife, and his sons Arthur and Steve. Christmas has become a high tech affair, with armies of elven commandos rappelling down from the space-age SR-1 flying fortress to deliver gifts. Santa is of retirement age, with his brilliant son Steve already in a de facto leadership role while misfit Arthur bides his time in the mail room.
Having now seen the whole movie in its entirety, I'd give it a 7/10 if only because of the creative approach it took to the Santaverse (watching commando elves in action) and for the awesomeness of seeing a cartoon depiction of Toronto. I don't, however, think I would take small children to see this movie - seeing a bickering, selfish Santa clan ruling the elves as some kind of military dictatorship is hardly the kind of idea I want to instill in small people.
Seriously, the most flawed aspect of this movie are its characters, who even up to the last five minutes of the movie when the "moral of the story" is bright and shiny, still seem tremendously... bad! Let's break it down.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Voiced by the young Professor X from X-Men: First Class, Arthur is the young and clumsy younger son of the current Santa Claus. His accident-prone nature can often be more than a mere nuisance - it's noted that he once tripped over an electrical wire leading to a disaster that flooded the elf barracks ("I lost everything in that flood!"). He also has an unhealthy dose of father-worship, which borders on obsessive.
You can tell from the beginning that Arthur is poised to become Santa - he's the underdog, he cares about the family, and most importantly he's the only one who seems concerned about keeping the spirit of giving and belief in Santa Claus alive! Even so, it's hard not to spend the whole movie hoping he won't become Santa, because frankly, he's completely useless!
In the end, it's hard to feel that Arthur deserves the Santa mantle for delivering a single present when his brother successfully delivered a billion. Yes, he has the Santa spirit, but is he really competent enough to be running the show? Hard to believe.
Voiced by Hugh Laurie a.k.a. House, Steve is Santa's older son. He's a technological whiz and commands the elves with the iron fist of a brilliant executive. He's the brains and the brawn behind Christmas, but cares more about efficiency and praise than about the actual children and their gifts. He has a typical materialistic attitude and is covetous of the Santa mantle. Probably, this all has to do with the fact that his father takes all the credit for his work. His pinstripe, designer Santa suit and Christmas tree beard are really a bit much.
In the end, he cedes being the next Santa, despite his father's admission that he "deserves" it. It's true he doesn't really have the same spirit as Arthur, but let's face it - he's the only one who has his sh!t together enough to run the show.
A cantankerous and stubborn old mule who treats the elves and reindeer like furniture, this old man is completely unable to take advice and is hellbent on proving that he's not just a relic, irrespective of the consequences. Watching his sad existence sans Santa is the reason his son doesn't want to retire.
Despite the fact that Arthur worships him as the most giving person of all, Santa is probably the most useless character in this entire movie! He's the official "Commander-in-chief", but really his son Steve has been running Christmas for years. Despite this, he refuses to step down after his requisite 70 Christmases, stubbornly clinging to the Santa mantle despite clearly being past his prime. In fact, he's quite unable to do anything on his own but continues to take credit for all of Steve's successes while placing the blame for any failures squarely on Steve's shoulders. He's a hugely negligent father, a poor leader, and (apparently) a disrespectful husband too ("And I'd like to thank my wife for doing... whatever it is women do while their husbands are at work.").
Bryony is an elf, and elves are the real movers and shakers in this movie. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of them, they unwaveringly answer to Santa - flying the ship, wrapping gifts, delivering presents. Bryony is a gift-wrapping elf, but she's eager to head into the field to deliver that one missing present once it's discovered that a child has been missed. She can run as fast as Arthur can bike and she's able to offer advice when Arthur has no idea what orders to give. In other words, she could pretty much function without the Commander-in-chief.
Overall, the movie paints a pretty grim picture of the elves - subjugated slaves who do all the legwork in the Clauses' military dictatorship, with skills vastly outstripping those of their overlords, but whose psyches are entirely dependent on their benefactors. The elves at one point go into total meltdown when they think the Clauses have abandoned them.
Probably the most well-rounded character in this movie, Mrs. Claus actually cares about the well-being of her family while also being on top of things - formulating a plan when Santa needs to hop into action and being level-headed enough to read the instructions while Santa is being his usual incompetent self. It's sad that she's sidelined by her ridiculous husband.
Conclusion: Arthur Christmas was an entertaining-to-watch yet wholly frustrating movie, presenting a unique picture of Santa Claus, but reducing the Santa dynasty to a bunch of selfish, bickering good-for-nothings and placing the Santa mantle on the most useless (though warm hearted) of the bunch.