Hugh Laurie is no stranger to voice over work. Whether it’s “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Stuart Little” or numerous other appearances, Laurie’s vocal talents has served him well. Now, just in time for the holidays, the “House” star can be heard in Aardman Animation and Sony Picture Animation’s clever and charming new feature “Arthur Christmas.”
A leading contender for a best animated picture Oscar nomination, “Christmas” is the brainchild of director Sarah Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham. This new contemporary tale answers the question “How does Santa Claus deliver all those toys to billions of kids across the globe?” It also features a lively cast of characters who make it all happen including the current but close to retiring Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent), his dutiful wife Mrs. Claus (Imelda Staunton), Santa’s predecessor Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and his sons Arthur (James McAvoy) and Steve (Laurie). Arthur is the embodiment of the true Christmas spirit that seems to have escaped a distracted Santa and his family as they work year round to prepare for this technical monstrosity of a mission (even with the help of thousands of elves). Steve is the architect of his father’s futuristic operation and preparing for the day he’ll take over the “Santa Claus” title like his grandfathers before him.
Having spoken to director Sarah Smith last month in London, I was quite aware of the work that went into the screenplay and how tight it was before recording (a rarity in the animation process). Speaking to Laurie last week in Los Angeles, he seemed thrilled to chat with someone who wasn’t going to ask him “House” questions and might have actually seen the movie (ah, junket press). He also appreciated the work Smith and Baynham put into the screenplay before he came on board.
“I had a pretty good idea how this character would sound. I didn’t imagine how he would look,” Laurie says. “I saw those first drawings, but I had no idea I would be so buff. I didn’t complain by the way.”
As noted in the interview embedded in this post, I remarked to Laurie that the animators did a diligent job putting his trademark facial expressions in Steve’s face. Had he noticed?
“A little bit, but I’m not as conscious about that. We never are about ourselves,” Laurie explains. “They stick a video camera there so the animator always has a point of reference. [In case they wonder] ‘I hear him saying this, but I don’t know what his face was expressing at the time.'”
“Christmas” is opening in the UK this weekend, but doesn’t hit American screens until the day before Thanksgiving. It faces the daunting prospect of opening against “Muppets” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” two films that are currently polling with higher interest and awareness among moviegoers (uh oh). The fact all three family-centric films are opening on the same day (with “Happy Feet Two” also in the marketplace by then mind you) is somewhat shocking and perplexing. Having not screened “Muppets” yet, I can only highly recommend “Arthur Christmas” out of the three. It’s incredibly clever with gorgeous animation and production design (you wouldn’t expect any less from an Aardman production). It’s also, however, one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year with jokes that adults will go over kids heads but teenagers and adults will absolutely appreciate. “Christmas” is the sort of quality film moviegoers have been waiting for since mid-summer and hopefully audiences will find time to see it over the holiday weekend or in Dec. And, surprise, Laurie agrees.
“No you don’t have to be a kid [to enjoy it], honestly, take it from me,” Laurie volunteers. “To have something that can amuse and entertain and enchant the whole family or a whole group of people is a very appealing thing.”
“Arthur Christmas” opens nationwide and in 3D on Nov. 23.
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