Arthur Christmas (2011) – Film Review

From Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations, the latter being the iconic British company behind many beloved hand-crafted films such as: ‘Wallace and Gromit,’ ‘Chicken Run,’ ‘Morph’ and ‘Early Man.’ Comes a festive family adventure focusing on ‘Santa’s son: ‘Arthur’ as he races across the globe to deliver a present to an overlooked child, and although the film doesn’t feature the impeccable stop-motion animation the company is well-known for, it does make-up for its mostly generic CG visuals through its amusing moments, charming characters and inventive story.

Plot Summary: On the night of Christmas Eve, after ‘Santa’ and his enormous team of elves believe themselves to have succeed in another year of present delivery for the children of the world. ‘Santa’s clumsy son: ‘Arthur’ and a skilled wrapping elf named: ‘Bryony,’ discover a young girl’s present has been misplaced, leaving her the only child in the world without a gift from ‘Santa.’ Fearing what the young girl will think when she awakens to find nothing under the tree Christmas morning, ‘Arthur’ sets-out on a desperate mission with ‘Santa’s elderly father to deliver the forgotten gift.

Directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook, ‘Arthur Christmas’ is actually the first directorial effort from Cook since the Disney flick: ‘Mulan’ in 1998, with Smith having never directed a feature before in her career. Yet even with these fairly inexperienced directors, ‘Arthur Christmas’ never gets muddled within its own story, managing to balance its many characters, exciting sequences and themes of family and symbolism/icons immensely well, whilst the film also cleverly answers the question that has perplexed children around the world for years, that being: “How Does Santa Deliver All His Presents in a Single Night?” The only major issue ‘Arthur Christmas’ suffers from as a film is its fast-pacing, which does remain very quick throughout the runtime and results in some scenes feeling very rushed.

James McAvoy portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Arthur,’ who is likable-enough and easy to root for as a character in wanting to deliver the misplaced present, though I could see McAvoy’s performance irritating some viewers, as ‘Arthur’ is always very energetic, jumping from fearful to cheerful incredibly fast even if it is a nice change-of-pace for a protagonist to have nothing but love for the Christmas season. The rest of the cast of Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Ashley Jensen, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton are all exceptional in their roles as the ‘Claus’ family, adding-up to a splendid family-dynamic which the story actually explores a fair amount of.

Just as lively as the film’s fast-pacing, the animated cinematography for: ‘Arthur Christmas’ is very innovative, constantly displaying a number of visually-interesting and fairly unique shots, many of which capture the massive scale of the ‘S-1’ (the high-tech sleigh-replacement ‘Santa’ now utilises) as it soars across the sky. Additionally, with ‘Arthur’ and ‘Grandsanta’ being unfamiliar with the modern world due to them being mostly confined to the North Pole, much of their journey revolves around them accidently arriving at various locations as they attempt to find the young girl’s home in Trelew, England. And each location manages to feel diverse and allows for many exhilarating set-pieces, from the sleigh being chased by the Spanish police force through Trelew, Argentina, to ‘Arthur’ and ‘Grandsanta’ almost being eaten by lions after finding themselves on the Savannah plains.

However, the original score by Harry Gregson-Williams is the complete opposite, as the film’s soundtrack is your standard animated score with little memorable or interesting about it. From tracks like ‘Trelew, Cornwall, England,’ ‘Operation Christmas’ and ‘Goodbye Evie,’ the original score is fairly disappointing when considering many of the film’s creative ideas in regards to its story. Still, with that said, the track: ‘One Missed Child’ does capture ‘Arthur’s true awe at the sight of the original sleigh perfectly, as short as the scene itself may be.

The animation itself isn’t extremely well-detailed but does remain attractive throughout the story, despite my distaste of a few of the character’s designs that is, as I personally found many of the characters to appear far too cartoonish and even slightly unappealing, particularly when it comes to many of the elves’ designs. These design choices are actually intentional however, as the animators decided to approach the character-designs with the goal of making them feel authentically British and quirky, rather than air-brushed and immensely appealing.

On the whole, ‘Arthur Christmas’ has far more merits than it does faults, as the film serves as a refreshing take on the typical ‘Santa’ saves Christmas story. Interjecting a family-dynamic and a large array of adult-centered humour into what is already an entertaining and surprisingly smart narrative for a family flick. So even in spite of its average-looking animation and overly-fast pacing, ‘Arthur Christmas’ is truly a joyful film to watch with a heartfelt message at its core, and I feel is likely to become a modern Christmas classic in-time. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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The Grinch (2018) – Film Review

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as his pen-name: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ is recognised today as one of the best authors in children’s literature. Through his whimsical writing, memorable characters and surreal illustrations, many of Geisel’s stories have become truly timeless as a result of how original they were compared to other children’s books released around the same-period. So of course, it would only be a matter of time till Geisel’s various characters began making their way to the silver screen, with one of his most villainous characters: ‘The Grinch,’ receiving many adaptations, the most recent of which possibly being the worst to-date.

Plot Summary: In the town of: ‘Whoville,’ the residents known as ‘Whos’ excitedly await the arrival of Christmas Day. But just north of: ‘Whoville,’ on the top of: ‘Mount Crumpit,’ the cantankerous and green-furred: ‘Grinch’ begins to hatch a plan with his pet-dog: ‘Max,’ crafting a scheme to steal Christmas from the ‘Whos’ in an attempt to silence their irritating holiday cheer once and for all.

This 2018 readaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is animated by Illumination Animation, the animation company behind modern family flicks like ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Sing’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ in addition to a previous ‘Dr. Seuss’ adaptation: ‘The Lorax’ in 2012. This isn’t surprising of course, as Illumination Animation have truly exploded in popularity since 2010, mostly due to their creation of: ‘The Minions.’ And whilst I personally don’t despise the company as a whole as I feel many of their films are entertaining-enough for younger viewers, its fair to say their film catalogue is spotty at best, with many of their films bosting extremely predicable humour and usually attractive yet repetitive-looking animation, and ‘The Grinch’ is unfortunately no exception.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the title character, and although Cumberbatch is usually an actor I adore, having given an array of brilliant performances throughout his career. ‘The Grinch’ is without a doubt one of his weakest, as his performance somehow manages to feel both minimum effort and also far too cartoonish. Resulting in this version of the nefarious characters becoming instantly forgettable, especially when put in comparison with Jim Carrey’s beloved performance. Then there is also Cameron Seely and Rashida Jones who portray ‘Cindy-Lou Who’ and her mother: ‘Donna,’ who this time around have their own subplot mostly unrelated to ‘The Grinch’s scheme, which serves little purpose aside from one particular scene. And finally there is Pharrell Williams as the story’s narrator, which is some of the most bizarre casting I’ve ever seen, as his typical American-accent doesn’t remotely fit the role of a traditional storyteller.

Similar to the rest of Illumination Animation’s films, ‘The Grinch’ is visually-impressive at a first-glance, as the film’s animated cinematography and extremely vibrant colour palette is likely to catch any viewer’s eye. Yet also in-line with their other films, Illumination Animation’s style does feel very repetitive after so long, as each character/location does little to make itself stand-out. A perfect example of this is ‘The Grinch’ himself, as while ‘The Grinch’ is implied to have very poor hygiene similar to other adaptations of the story, neither ‘The Grinch’ nor his home within ‘Mount Crumpit’ are ever displayed as unpleasant, even though ‘The Grinch’s home being dark and filthy serves as an extension of his vile personality.

Aside from ‘Tyler the Creator’s abysmal new rendition of: ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,’ the original score by Danny Elfman is completely unremarkable. From ‘A Wonderful Awful Idea’ to ‘Stealing Christmas,’ all of the film’s tracks lack both memorability and charm, barley embracing the fantastical nature of: ‘Dr. Seuss’ stories or the festive season itself, with the rest of the film’s soundtrack just relying on other modern renditions of classic Christmas songs.

Undoubtedly the most disappointing aspect of this readaptation however, is the actual animation style. As one obvious benefit that this new adaptation has over the live-action adaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is simply being animated, as this allows the film’s designs to greatly lean-into the wonderful illustrations of: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ as his sketches are incredibly difficult to recreate in real-life as result of their harsh curves and gravity-defying arictecture. But strangely, the film doesn’t take advantage of this, with many designs only having a slight ‘Seuss’ influence in spite of the clearly-inspired rhyming dialogue.

Overall, ‘The Grinch’ is a worst-case scenario for a readaptation, as I feel this animated film falls-flat in most areas, never reaching the emotional or comedic heights of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ from 2000, or even matching-up to the delightful hand-drawn animation seen in the original 1966 short. So whilst its visuals may appear pleasant at first, it quickly becomes apparent something is missing. As this new adaptation gives the impression it was made by a team of producers rather than just one director, and as a result, fails to breathe new life into this age-old Christmas tale. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Krampus (2015) – Film Review

Whilst most Christmas films get across their message about how family is the true meaning of the holiday in a wholesome and light-hearted fashion, ‘Krampus’ takes quite a different approach. As director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) crafts a cynical and amusing horror-comedy based-around: ‘Krampus,’ a creature from European folklore with origins stretching back to the days before Christianity, serving as essentially the sinister twin of jolly ‘Saint Nicholas,’ punishing those who misbehave in various odious ways. And while the film is far from perfect, ‘Krampus’ creative ideas and impressive practical effects make the film worth it’s runtime.

Plot Summary: When his dysfunctional family clash over the holidays, young ‘Max’ finally decides to turn his back on Christmas, tearing-up his letter to ‘Santa Clause’ in a fit of rage. Little does he know, his lack of Christmas spirit has unleashed the wrath of: ‘Krampus,’ an ancient demon who punishes those who don’t celebrate the festive season. Forcing ‘Max’ and the rest of his family to fight for one another if they hope to survive.

Although there are plenty of enjoyable films out there to watch over the festive season, I usually always find myself craving something new around the Christmas-period, as the cliché narrative of children helping ‘Santa Claus’ save Christmas gets very old quick. ‘Krampus’ however, does certainly attempt something new, even if it isn’t always successful. As whilst the original outline for the film was closer to a straight-forward horror, focusing mostly on ‘Krampus’ picking people off throughout ‘Max’s town, it was eventually decided to make it more of a dark retelling of a traditional Christmas film. This is why the plot is kicked-off with a letter to ‘Santa.’ and why the film’s first act begins much like a family film would, before then having a drastic turn towards horror and dark fantasy.

The film’s large cast of Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell and Krista Stadler are all serviceable in their roles, even though many of their characters aren’t developed nowhere near enough. Additionally, ‘Tom Engel,’ a.k.a. ‘Max’s father, also has many moments where he doesn’t seem to take their life-threating situation that seriously, almost as if he is acknowledging how bizarre the story is, which does diminish the film’s tension at points. But with ‘Krampus’ featuring moments of humour and fright alike, the film obviously has many shifts in tone between scenes.

Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography is nothing amazing altogether, as in spite of the film having quite a few memorable and attractive shots, there are also a large amount of bland shots whenever the camera is focusing on the actors themselves. What is far more admirable though is how the camerawork enhances the film’s set-design, making the audience believe that the film was shot inside a real house and outside on a real wintry street. When in reality, over 95% of the film was shot on a soundstage, with the snow covering the ground being made from a material that’s commonly used for making nappies.

Composer Douglas Pipes handles the film’s original score, and he described his soundtrack as “A Collection of Twisted Christmas Carols with Pagan Thrown in.” As the score incorporates everything from the sounds of chains, bells, bones and animal-skin drums in addition to having choirs chant and whisper in different tongues, making for a foreboding but suitably Christmassy score. The track: ‘A Cold Wind’ also does a phenomenal job of reiterating ‘Krampus’ as the ominous shadow of: ‘Santa Clause’ through its use of sleigh bells. However, the film’s actual sound design features some incredibly strange choices for a horror, as many goofy/cartoonish sound effects can be heard within the film, feeling immensely out-of-place every-time they are.

One of the finest aspects of: ‘Krampus’ as a film has to be its effects, as rather than having an over-reliance on CG visuals, ‘Krampus’ brings all of its uniquely-creepy creatures to-life through detailed costumes and animatronics, harkening back to classic 80s horror-comedies like ‘Gremlins.’ Many of the film’s terrifying monsters also share wonderfully-horrific designs, with the final design for: ‘Krampus’ and his elves being distilled from various postcards and illustrations seen over-time. Or in the case of the malevolent toys, taking inspiration from the 1992 low-budget horror: ‘Demonic Toys,’ with the angel ornament, teddy bear, robot and Jack-in-a-box that attack the family sharing many similarities to that obscure film.

In conclusion, ‘Krampus’ is a rollicking ride of a Christmas film even if it isn’t quite as polished as Dougherty’s Halloween flick: ‘Trick ‘r Treat.’ As the film’s excellent practical effects, menacing creature designs and great original score all lend themselves very well to the distinctive story, despite the narrative itself often feeling like wasted potential considering ‘Krampus’ doesn’t fully appear until near the end of the runtime. Regardless, this horror-comedy is still the best on-screen interpretation of: ‘Krampus’ and his minions as of yet. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – Film Review

From director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) and producer Chris Columbus comes another Christmas family adventure with ‘The Christmas Chronicles,’ and while the film may be nowhere near as memorable as many other festive classics. I can still see the film being a mostly entertaining ride for families and younger viewers alike.

Plot Summary: When brother and sister: ‘Teddy’ and ‘Kate Pierce,’ are left alone on Christmas Eve, they devise a plan to catch ‘Santa Claus’ on camera, which soon turns into an unexpected journey that most children could only dream of. As they manage to hop aboard ‘Santa’s sleigh and join him on his task of delivering presents all over the world.

Although the two films do differ from each other in many ways, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this film and ‘The Santa Clause’ from 1994. As both Christmas flicks focus on characters going on a magical adventure with ‘Santa Clause,’ with them usually having strong themes of family and belief throughout. However, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ also seems to focus more on exciting action set-pieces.

Whilst Judah Lewis and Darby Camp portray the siblings decently well throughout the film (aside from the occasional line of dialogue) Kurt Russell is without a doubt the stand-out of the cast, as he brings his usual charisma and talent to create a fresh and memorable portrayal of Saint Nick himself. This is dragged down by the film’s characterisation however, as both of the siblings are pretty bland and dull from start-to-finish. As a pleasant little detail, ‘Santa’s list even includes several of Kurt Russell’s real-life grandchildren.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is also mostly generic throughout the film, usually serving its purpose without drawing the audience’s attention away from the action on-screen. Speaking of which, the action scenes throughout the film are handled surprisingly well. From the fast car chase through the streets of Chicago, to ‘Santa’s sleigh soaring through the night sky. The weak CGI throughout the film can detract from some these scenes however, with ‘Santa’s elves in particular having some very distracting CG effects at points.

The original score by Christophe Beck is decent overall, as while not incredibly memorable, and many could see it as slightly weaker when compared to many of his other soundtracks such as: ‘The Muppets,’ ‘Frozen’ or ‘Ant-Man,’ the score does have a festive and pretty up-beat tone throughout the film’s runtime. ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ even gives us a new spin on the classic song: ‘Santa Clause is Coming to Town,’ as ‘Santa’ shows off some of his style as he sings: ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ in an attempt to add some cheer to those around him.

My main issue with the film is the film’s overall cheesiness, as although the film does avoid the occasional Christmas film cliché. The film is still brimming with cheesy lines and scenes throughout the film’s narrative. However, I found this to be a problem mostly around ‘Santa’s elves, as not only did these characters have an awful new redesign, but they seemed to be purely used for the sake of being cute. I also couldn’t help but think the film could’ve been improved if directed by Chris Columbus, as although director Clay Kaytis doesn’t do a terrible job by any means, I feel the director of: ‘Home Alone’ (a true classic for many) could’ve definitely made the film better for what it was.

Overall, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is a mostly fun adventure for a film night on Christmas Eve, as while the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Kurt Russell’s memorable performance mixed with some entertaining action scenes and a very festive atmosphere all result in the film being a decent watch. So maybe check this one out one year if you’re in the need for a festive fantasy adventure, just don’t have your expectations too high. Final Rating: 6/10.

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