Contest: “Arthur Christmas”

Posted on November 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm

This is really special! I have one copy of the adorable Arthur Christmas DVD to give away. As I said in my review, “From the brisk Justin Bieber video that opens the story to the warm-hearted happy ending, this is a holiday charmer that shows us how imperfect families can still feel just right.” And it has wonderfully intricate details that will make you want to hit the pause button and watch it over and over.   To enter, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Arthur Christmas” in the subject line and tell me your favorite Christmas carol.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick a winner at random on November 18.  (Note my policy on conflicts.)

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Contests and Giveaways

Interview: Chris Juen of ‘Arthur Christmas’

Posted on November 23, 2011 at 8:00 am

It was a special treat to speak to Chris Juen of this week’s release, “Arthur Christmas,” because he also worked on one of my favorite animated films of the past few years, Surf’s Up, as well as the delightful Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

What brought you to this project?

Sony and Ardman had a partnership and I could not pass up a chance to work with Ardman.  The story reel was super charming and you could tell right away the story was really solid.

The actors in this film are superb, especially Hugh Laurie as Santa’s super-efficient techno-wizard son, Steve.  How did you think about voice casting?

Casting is tricky.  So-and-so’s a great actor and then you put him next to a character and it doesn’t quite work.  We get a group of people we think will work and test them out against scratch models to get rouch performances to see if we can imagine that voice coming from that character.  When we find one we really like, we show them the test.  Hugh has such a distinct, great voice and it helps to get actors that Ardman is so beloved.

How did Justin Bieber get involved?

Justin Bieber is a late add, but with his Christmas album the timing was a great boost for the film and a great opportunity to show his video.

What is your role on the film?

I’m the co-producer so I worked for Sony pictures and am kind of the day to day operations guy.  I have about 15 years with Sony so I am pretty good at knowing how to build the digital pipeline, how to make a movie inside a computer.  We had a crew of about 450 to manage.

What makes Ardman (the people behind “Wallace & Gromit”) different?

They’re not afraid of having flawed characters.  They love very humanistic flaws.  People aren’t perfect.  We were trying to figure out how to get that Ardman quality into a CG film.  A lot of time in CG you make a perfect character.  A lot of time was spent making our characters imperfect.  So one side was offset a little bit or one side bigger than the other.  It doesn’t feel like it’s clay, but it feels real.  I think they do that not only in design but in character.  The characters in this movie are very rich.

I loved Mrs. Santa because she kept surprising you.

I wish she had more screen time!  She’s the magic behind the magic.

What was the most difficult technical challenge you had on this film?

I think it was the elves.  The director wanted a lot of diversity and a lot of options to make it look large scale, millions of elves.  There was a logic to it, with the different kinds of elves, their costumes and assignments.  It’s what we call a variation pipeline and it was unbelievable.

You have a real commitment to family movies.  Where does that come from?

I was lucky enough to work on “The Polar Express” when I was working in visual effects and it was my first chance to work on a whole story.  I just loved that process.  It’s a more creative process than just visual effects.  And it’s amazing what having your own children will do.  I want to make films I can take my daughters to see and be proud and have them get something out of them.

What should parents know about this film?

It’s a family movie about families, about characters people will relate to because they’re in they’re own families.  And a reminder not to get too wrapped up –

Literally!

(laughs), that’s right, not get too wrapped up literally or otherwise in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, just do what’s right and spend time with family.

 

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Interview

Arthur Christmas

Posted on November 22, 2011 at 6:12 pm

A sleigh pulled by reindeer?  That’s so five decades ago.  With the population topping seven billion and the Duggars getting ready to welcome baby number 20, Santa (Jim Broadbent) needs all the support modern technology can provide.  He may not be on Facebook or Twitter, but he has swapped the sleigh for a state-of-the-art spaceship with a cloaking device, and he has a battalion of elves with the precision technology of Seal Team Six and nifty hand-held devices with naughty/nice indicators.  Santa’s head of ops is his burly son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), who barks orders from mission control in camo fatigues and a high and tight haircut.  Meanwhile, his bumbling but kind-hearted brother, Arthur Christmas (James McAvoy), sits by himself and answers letters from children old school-style, one at a time by hand, wearing a fuzzy Christmas sweater decorated with candy canes and reindeer-faced slippers.

The British Aardman studio is beloved for claymation films like the “Wallace and Gromit” series, characterized by off-beat characters literally showing the fingerprints of the humans who created them and a refreshing unwillingness to focus-group their stories to make them bland and culturally non-specific.  While this one has some accommodation to American sensibilities — surely a little girl from Cornwall would address her letter to Father Christmas rather than Santa — the Aardman sensibility has thankfully been transferred to the digital world without looking sterile or boringly hyper-real.   Steve’s goatee is shaped like a Christmas tree, an elf has a pierced eyebrow, and a reindeer has a plastic cone on his head.  The settings, especially on the North Pole, are deliciously intricate and the characters understatedly quirky.  I longed for a pause button to explore the witty details, especially the Enigma code-inspired analog machines Arthur and his grandfather use to send messages.

Santa’s family is endearingly flawed and familiarly dysfunctional.  He loves his sons and knows he should retire, but he just cannot give up the spotlight, even in playing a Christmas board game with his family.  His father, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) longs for a chance to show he can still take the starring role.  I was especially taken with Mrs. Christmas (Imelda Staunton), whose comfy demeanor hides some unexpected skills.  Steve is a numbers guy who is comfortable with a delivery record that is almost perfect and he is angry and frustrated at not being promoted to become the new Santa.  Clumsy, anxious Arthur knows that no child should be disappointed on Christmas morning.  So when one gift is mistakenly left behind, it will be up to Arthur to save the day.  With Santa and Steve in bed and mission control shut down, Grandsanta, Arthur, and a spirited stowaway wrapping elf (Ashley Jenson as Bryony) set off in the sleigh to deliver that last gift, a pink twinkle bicycle, to a little girl in Cornwall before sunrise.

From the brisk Justin Bieber video that opens the story to the warm-hearted happy ending, this is a holiday charmer that shows us how imperfect families can still feel just right.

(more…)

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