In Arthur Christmas, Santa's workshop has become a hi-tech, automated facility manned by elves.
Presents are transported on Christmas Eve by a mile-wide super-sleigh with a cloaking device. Santa’s little helpers have only 18.14 seconds to enter each house.
Compared to the old ways of reindeer and chimneys preferred by the geriatric Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) it’s the perfect system: sophisticated, efficient, utterly soulless.
The parallel is there to be drawn between Aardman’s traditional style of handmade claymation and the computer-generated cartoonery now in vogue.
With Christmas though, the Wallace and Gromit guys have gone down the latter route, like they did before – not that successfully – with Flushed Away. For all its flaws, that 2006 release was at least tonally and visually compatible with the Bristolian outfit’s usual fare.
Sarah Smith’s yuletide caper, in contrast, has a different feel altogether: part Megamind, part The Polar Express, part Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Indeed, the only thing that’s recognisably British is the voice cast.
That doesn’t stop the film being lively and amusing, particularly when following Arthur (James McAvoy) – the bumbling number two son of Jim Broadbent’s Santa, eternally in the shadow of sibling Steve (Hugh Laurie) – on a mission to get a bike to the kid his father’s set-up omitted.
At no point, alas, does it feel like Aardman, with the charm and detail that tag implies. The dialogue too lacks the normal zing, with only the odd pun hitting the bullseye.
Arthur is at its best during a world tour that takes McAvoy, his granddad and their sleigh from Toronto to the Serengeti. But often it seems familiar.
Haven’t we been here before – not only in Express but also in the live-action likes of The Santa Clause, Fred Claus and Elf? Where Aardman once led, it’s now content to follow.
There are plenty of ho-ho-hos here, most of them coming from Ashley Jensen’s helium-voiced elf Bryony. But there’s definitely something missing, and we don’t just mean the plasticine...