Saturday, 3 December 2011

Why Arthur Christmas is much better than Tintin

I tried to take my mother to see 'The Help' the other week but it was full up, so we ended up with our 3D glasses on for Tintin. It was an OK blur of cartoon fun. Plenty that was spectacular, but nothing very gripping. If someone now says 'Tintin' to me, there's a bit of a blank in my brain.

Today I saw Arthur Christmas, and it is in a different league, not because of the animation and special effects, both films were equally spectacular, but because of the characters and the story. Tintin fans will be upset, but it takes real effort to try and remember why that model ship was so important. It's a struggle to think about all that business of Captain Haddock and his ancestors. And the bottom line is I didn't really care enough for any of the characters, even Tintin. He was a nice fellow who stumbled into someone else's adventure. But he was not an underdog and there was nothing personal. He was no Simba , or Karate Kid  or a Brave Heart, a Rocky, a Billy Elliot.  And he was no Arthur Christmas.

We get to like our hero Arthur Christmas, a lot. He is clumsy and geeky and full of phobias. Heights, flying, reindeer, snow - he is frightened of them all. He is absolutely not cool: but he loves Christmas. He believes that Santa is the best man in the universe. And he loves the children. Each one. We get to like the other characters too, even Steve, the very cool, hi tech older brother who runs everything the modern way and seethes with ambition to take over, the slightly doddery father, the very Queen Elizabeth II type mother, Margaret, and the one who ends up stealing the whole show, grandad Santa who can't stand all the new fangled way of doing things with computers and space ships.

Unlike Tintin with its complicated tale of revenge, here the story is as simple and emotional as you can get. Steve has run a highly successful Christmas eve, billions of children have had their presents delivered, but the pink bike for one little girl fell off the conveyor belt. She is going to wake up on Christmas morning and there will be no present. There's the story. For Steve it's an insignificant detail in the huge scheme of success; for Arthur it's a disaster. And he's the only one that really cares enough to do something about it, even if it means overcoming all his phobias and letting grand dad get the old sleigh out to deliver the present.

Between the old sleigh bursting out of the stable doors to the bike being put under the Christmas tree, we get to know the characters more, including a wonderful little elf from the wrapping department who joins Arthur and grandpa, and there's plenty more action, but the whole time the writer keeps on reminding everyone what this is all about. The one child matters. Steve and his father thought they could just go to bed, but when the elfs find out that one child has been missed there's a near revolution at the north pole. They are shamed into getting out the space ship again. So at the end, grandad, father, Steve, and Arthur are all there in the one house that got missed. The film ends with father retiring and it's not Steve who inherits, it's Arthur, because he had the passion for what the heart of Christmas is all about.

Great films are usually full of parables and stories for preachers to use in sermons. There's not much in Tintin. But with Arthur Christmas - where to start? Passion is more important than being professional; do the right thing whatever your phobias; don't write the old off; and most important of all, the importance of the one. There's no mention of Jesus in the film, but maybe Arthur had read some of his stories - There was a shepherd who had a hundred sheep, and when he found out he had lost one, he left the ninety nine...

Well done Sarah Smith, please write and direct more. As far as I can see from IMDB this is your first major film. So, in a straight fight between Tintin and Arthur Christmas, you've beaten Spielberg and Jackson with your debut. Not bad.

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