**1/2 (out of four)
Before “Arthur Christmas,” the theater subjected me to TWO viewings of Justin Bieber’s video for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” So pain already was pounding my head.
But the computer-animated, 3-D “Arthur” deserves blame for increasing the throbbing. This movie does not know when to take a breath. From Aardman Animations (“Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “Flushed Away”) and first-time feature director Sarah Smith, “Arthur Christmas” tells many jokes for adults but moves with the frantic excess of an over-caffeinated child. Or perhaps just the desire to entertain one.
Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) works passionately in the North Pole letters department, even though dad Santa (Jim Broadbent) pays him little mind. And now that Santa, to the chagrin of Arthur’s older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie), has decided not to retire after his 70th Christmas, the jolly guy has officially alienated both of heirs who hope to one day take the reins of the high-tech ship that long ago replaced that rickety, outdated ol’ sleigh.
Arthur’s determined commitment to a present that accidentally went undelivered to little English girl Gwen solidifies the movie’s emphasis on the importance of feeling included, and the work ethic championed by Arthur and his funny Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) should show kids the value of old-fashioned, unceasing effort. So “Arthur Christmas” has plenty of positivity going for it, as well as both sweetness (in her optimistically inquisitive letter to Santa, Gwen writes, “I think you are real, but how do you do it?”) and a speedy cleverness that often delivers another joke before the last one has time to register.
The movie, which recognizes Christmas largely as a chance for presents rather than a time for family bonding, misses an opportunity to explore how the North Pole population spends the rest of the year. Maybe then Santa wouldn’t have such an identity crisis over the idea of not being Santa anymore, since perhaps he spends the year fly-fishing or dress-making or whatever.
That sort of patient character examination would slow down “Arthur Christmas,” whose humor will often go over kids’ heads, and temper a pace that will exhaust most adult viewers—which seems like the opposite of why parents go to movies in the first place.
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