In Sarah Smith's film, the task of getting out all those presents on Christmas is a well-oiled machine -- from a stealth sleigh and ninja-ish elves to massive North Pole headquarters with a fully loaded situation room. The dysfunction is in the Claus family: The current Santa (voice of Jim Broadbent) is coasting, but neither son seems ready for the red-and-white suit. Steve (Hugh Laurie) is a technocrat; Arthur (James McAvoy) loooooves Christmas, but is a bumbling fool.
Everything comes to a head on Christmas Eve, when a glitch causes one present to go undelivered. Defying orders, Arthur and his retired grandfather fire up the old wooden sleigh, strap on the reindeer and head out to complete the mission. Needless to say, things don't go as planned, but it's all good fun. (Any Christmas film that can work in floating meerkats and the Communist nation of Cuba is breaking exciting new ground.)
Some of the humor might go over the head of youngsters, with jokes about Canada's perennially overlooked status, technology and nostalgia for the old days. But it's well-paced, full of color and lively throughout. Kids should adore the zillions of chattering elves (reminiscent of Despicable Me's adorable chattering minions), and get firmly behind Arthur's mania that no gift should be left undelivered -- not even one!
Bill Nighy, who has stolen many a scene as a live actor, proves he's just as nimble with voice work. His Grand-Santa is an unrepentant rascally old coot, who spouts vintage (and mild) epithets ("big girl's blouse!"), and manages to make the most unthinkable act ever in a Christmas movie seem hilarious. In 3-D, in select theaters.