Directed by Sarah Smith, and co-directed by Barry Cook, it features voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, and Ashley Jensen. Set on Christmas night, the film tells a story about Santa Claus's clumsy son Arthur Claus who discovers that the Santa's high-tech ship has failed to deliver one girl's present. In response, he goes on a mission to save her Christmas, accompanied only by his ageing grandfather, a rebellious yet enthusiastic young Christmas Elf obsessed with wrapping gifts for children, and a team of eight strong, magical yet untrained reindeer.
On Christmas Eve, hundreds of Christmas elves helm the command centre of Santa Claus' mile-wide, ultra-high-tech sleigh-esque craft, the S-1. The current Santa (Malcolm) and the Christmas elves deliver presents to every child in the world using advanced equipment and military precision. These complex operations are micromanaged by thousands more elves, under the command of Malcolm's militaristic eldest son Steve and his obsequious elfin assistant Peter at mission control underneath the North Pole. Meanwhile, his younger son - the clumsy, fearful yet enthusiastic Arthur - devotedly answers the letters to Santa. During one of the delivery operations in Germany a child wakes up and almost sees Malcolm; in the tense escape operation, a Christmas elf aboard the S-1 inadvertently leans on a button, causing a present to fall from the supply line and go unnoticed.
Having completed his 70th mission, Malcolm is portrayed as far past his prime and whose role in field operations now is largely symbolic. Nonetheless, he is held in high esteem, and delivers a congratulatory speech to the enraptured elves. Malcolm announces he looks forward to his 71st, much to the frustration of heir-apparent Steve, who had prepared to succeed his father as Santa at the conclusion of this mission. During their family Christmas dinner, Arthur's suggestion for the family to play a board game degenerates into a tense quarrel between Malcolm and Steve, while Malcolm's father and predecessor Grandsanta, bored by retirement, resentfully criticises their over-modernization. After Grandsanta knocks the board off the table, Steve's PDA (a high tech device named a 'HOHO') flashes and he leaves the table in a hurry. Later, their father shares with his wife Margaret his grave doubts about his self-identity should he retire.
Arthur follows Steve, and the two learn that a Christmas elf named Bryony found the missed present - a wrapped bicycle for a little girl in England called Gwen, to whose letter Arthur had personally responded. Arthur alerts his father, who is at a loss as to how to handle the situation; Steve argues that one missed present out of billions is an acceptable error whose correction can wait a few days, citing this year's Christmas as the most successful in history. Grandsanta on the other hand, on learning of the dire situation, proposes delivering the gift using Eve, his old wooden sleigh, and the great-great-grandchildren of the original eight reindeer, forcefully whisking away a reluctant Arthur and a stowaway Bryony. In the process the three get lost in three different continents, lose several of their reindeer, and land in danger several times, ultimately being mistaken for aliens and causing an international military incident. Through all this, Arthur eventually learns, to his compounding disappointment, that Grandsanta's true motive is to fulfill his ego, Steve refuses to help them out of petty resentment and possibility of his brother being made hero overshadowing his work, and that his own father has gone to bed, apparently content even though a present was not delivered.
Finally, stranded in Cuba after losing the sleigh and the remaining reindeer, Arthur renews his sense of purpose: that it all comes down to having presents delivered, regardless of how it is done and who did it. With Grandsanta's and Bryony's help, he manages to recover the sleigh. Meanwhile, the elves grow increasingly alarmed at rumours of the neglected delivery and the Clauses' unthinkable indifference, sending them into a panic. In response, Malcolm, Margaret, and Steve take the high-tech sleigh-craft to deliver a superior present... albeit to the wrong child.
Arthur and his party manage to reach England, but lose the remaining reindeer; furthermore a US Predator drone scrambled by Chief De Silva of UNFITA intercepts and opens fire on the sleigh believing them to be aliens. Grandsanta sacrifices the sleigh, while Arthur and Bryony to parachute to the ground. Ultimately with Margaret and Bryony's help, all the male Clauses arrive at Gwen's house before she awakens, only to have all but Arthur quarrel about who gets to actually place the gift. Noticing that only Arthur truly cares about the girl's feelings, the elder Clauses collectively realize that he is the sole worthy successor. As a result, Malcolm gives Arthur the honour and Steve, recognizing his own shortcomings, forfeits his supposed birthright and acknowledges his brother's worthiness to take up the mantle. In a fitting conclusion, Gwen glimpses a snow-bearded Arthur in a wind-buffeted sweater just before he vanishes up into the S-1.
With the crisis resolved, Malcolm goes into a happy retirement with Margaret; he also becomes Grandsanta's much-desired new companion and plays Arthur's board game with him for many happy hours. Meanwhile, Steve finds true contentment as the Chief Operating Officer of the North Pole, while Bryony is promoted to Vice-President of Packing, Pacific Division. In a nod to traditionalism once neglected, the high-tech S-1 is re-christened EVIE in honour of Grandsanta's old sleigh and refitted to be pulled by a team of five thousand reindeer - led by the original eight, all of whom managed to return home safely via innate navigational abilities. Finally, Arthur happily guides the entire enterprise in the proper spirit as the new Santa.James McAvoy as Arthur Claus, the good-natured but clumsy younger son of Malcolm and Margaret who works in the mail room.
Hugh Laurie as Steven "Steve" Claus, Malcolm and Margaret's elder son and Arthur's incredibly capable, business oriented, but cynical, older brother.
Bill Nighy as Grandsanta, the 136-year-old grumpy but loving grandfather of Steve and Arthur who dislikes the modern world. He was Santa Claus before he retired after being shot while delivering presents in 1941 during World War II and his son Malcolm took over the role, but comes out of retirement to help Arthur save Christmas however his unfamiliarity with the modern world leads them into trouble. He was the 19th to serve in the role of Santa, which he began doing in 1902 when he was 27 years old. Despite having been Santa less than 40 years, he claims to have done 70 missions.
Jim Broadbent as Malcolm "Santa" Claus, the affable but incompetent man in charge at the North Pole, Grandsanta's son, Margaret's husband, and Steve's and Arthur's father. He has been Santa since 1941, and is the 20th to serve in that role.
Imelda Staunton as Margaret Claus, Malcolm's dedicated and talented wife, and mother of Steve and Arthur.
Ashley Jensen as Bryony Shelfley, Wrapping Division Grade 3, the enthusiastic Christmas Elf from the Giftwrap Battalion ends up tagging along with Arthur and Grandsanta.
Marc Wootton as Peter, Steve's assistant Christmas Elf.
Laura Linney as North Pole Computer
Eva Longoria as Chief De Silva, the head of UNFITA (United Northern Federal International Treaty Alliance)
Ramona Marquez as Gwen Hines, the girl whose present Arthur must deliver.
Michael Palin as Ernie Clicker, the elderly elf and former head of Polar communications for 46 missions during Grand-Santa's time as Santa Claus. He is brought out of retirement to help Steven track Grandsanta's old fashion sleigh.
Jerry Lambert as N.O.R.A.D.
Lead elves voiced by Sanjeev Bhaskar, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Rhys Darby, Jane Horrocks, Iain McKee, Andy Serkis, and Dominic West.
Arthur Christmas was first announced in 2007, under the name Operation Rudolph. It was the first film made by Aardman in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and its subsidiaries.
Aardman spent 18 months on pre-production on the story and design in the UK before relocating to Sony's Culver City, US, for another 18 months of production. On April 27, 2009, it was reported that production had begun with Aardman and Sony Pictures Imageworks working together on animation.
The film was released on 11 November 2011 in the United Kingdom and on 23 November 2011 in the United States. The music video for Justin Bieber's song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which plays over the end credits, was exclusively shown in theatres before the film.
Arthur Christmas was released on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D on 6 November 2012, in the US, and 19 November 2012 in the UK.
Arthur Christmas received generally positive reviews, praising its fresh take on the Christmas premise. Review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, reports that 92% of critics gave the film positive reviews, earning a "Fresh" rating. The site's consensus reads: "Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength." The film won a Golden Tomato Award at the 13th Golden Tomato Awards as the best reviewed animated film of 2011. On Metacritic, another review aggregator, the film holds a score of 69 based on 32 reviews.
John Anderson from Newsday praised the film, saying, "The results are not only funny and fresh, but represent a new way of tackling the whole yuletide paradigm: Santa as a high-tech hereditary monarchy." Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post also wrote a positive review, saying that it is "unexpectedly fresh, despite the familiar-sounding premise". Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times wrote that "the plot may be a little too cluttered for the toddler crowd to follow, but the next age group up should be amused, and the script by Peter Baynham and Sarah Smith has plenty of sly jokes for grown-ups." One of the few negative reviews came from Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald, who thought that "the movie fails utterly at coming up with a story that merits all the eye candy."
Arthur Christmas has earned $46,462,469 in North America, $33,334,089 in the UK, and $67,622,914 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $147,419,472.
In the United Kingdom the film opened in second place with a £2.5 million weekend gross, behind Immortals. It topped the box office in its fourth week, by which time the cumulative gross was £11.5 million. The film returned to the top of the box office on week seven, during Christmas Week, grossing £2.05m and a total of £19.7m.
In the United States and Canada the film earned $2.4 million on its opening day and $1.8 million on Thanksgiving Day. It would go on to gross $12.1 million over the three-day weekend and $16.3 million over the five-day. This was on par with studio expectations. The film went on to gross nearly $50 million domestically against a $100 million budget.
Arthur Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack to the film of the same name. It was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and released on 14 November 2011 by Sony Classical. Originally, Michael Giacchino and Adam Cohen were going to compose the score.
An iOS video game titled Arthur Christmas: Elf Run was released in the United Kingdom on November 9, 2011, on iTunes App Store. On November 18, 2011, the game was released worldwide on the iOS and Android platform. Released as a free and a premium version, the game allows players to play as delivery elves, who must quickly and quietly deliver gifts to children. Another iOS app based on the film is Arthur Christmas Movie Storybook, which was released on November 30, 2011.