Just when I thought I was getting pretty crotchety as I get older, "Arthur Christmas" comes along and knocks some of the dust off my film standards. Maybe it's the season; maybe it's the story.


Or actually, two stories. The other story being Aardman Animation, the Bristol England based studio that is more famously known for the Wallace and Grommet franchise, a British television series. Due to their success with the show they teamed up with Dreamworks to release the very successful "Chicken Run". After an initial investment of only $45 million, it returned a hefty quarter billion global take - in movie speak: gold.


That lead to the two companies agreeing to produce three other films: "The Tortoise and the Hare", "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit", and "Flushed Away". "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" went on to earn $192 million on a $30 million investment, "The Tortoise and the Hare" was shelved because of creative differences and "Flushed Away" (the most expensive to produce) tanked at the box office. That led to Dreamworks jettisoning the small studio to flounder on its own.

Aardman returned to television producing several shorts and more Wallace and Gromit shows. Sony, decided to team up with the animator to develop it's first feature length film since "Flushed Away". "Arthur Christmas" however takes less of a risk because holiday oriented animated films tend to be profitable.


So armed with some Sony money and the cash cow of 3D, we get a behind the scenes look at how Santa can deliver toys to all those kids in one night.


It turns out that Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) has little to do with it these days. His eldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie) using the latest in GPS, stealth and laser technology is responsible for the delivery of the toys. And... he runs the operation like a fine tune military machine.


And though he is jockeying for getting the main gig of being the next Santa Claus, he really doesn't have time to relate to his younger milder brother Arthur (James McAvoy).

Arthur is a kid in awe of the season of giving. Not as much in how the deliveries are made. But he stands by the age old North Pole creed: No present left behind.


This is not a policy practiced by Steve however, so when one bicycle is forgotten, Steve dismisses the goof and gets father Santa to agree. In the big picture one or two falling through the cracks isn't so bad.


But it is to Arthur.


Armed with determination and the backing of GrandSanta (Bill Nighy) Arthur sets out to deliver that bike using the only thing left to his disposal - an old sleigh that barely has any life left in it.

But this is a Christmas movie so we already know that things should work out. "Arthur Christmas" isn't about the destination, it's about the trip. And director Sarah Smith makes sure that Arthur's trip is a flight of fancy and awe. Arthur is a lovable character whom you want to succeed. Moreover, he plays off GrandSanta perfectly with Bill Nighy's character stealing every scene and keeping the story easily likeable for adults.


It's hard to say if "Arthur Christmas" will offset the loses of "Flushed Away" - the production budget has not yet been disclosed by Sony. But it may well become a modern Christmas classic, much like Schultz's A Charlie Brown Christmas and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas did when they were released. This will be a film of repeat visits.


"Arthur Christmas", though not perfect, is still warm, mushy and fun enough to put on the to-do list of holiday films to see.   -- GEOFF BURTON