Disney, Scott Garfield, Associated Press
"Arthur Christmas" — This pleasant holiday treat from Aardman, the British animation outfit behind "Chicken Run" and the "Wallace and Gromit" cartoons, has the old-fashioned spirit of Christmas at heart, spinning a snowflake-light tale with warmth, energy and goofy humor. The movie unveils the vast high-tech enterprise run by Santa to deliver all those presents as his big-hearted but bumbling younger son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), races to deliver a single gift that fell through the cracks. The delightful, drolly funny voice cast includes Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen. Director Sarah Smith offers a fresh look at the Santa legend with a flawed Claus whose family is as dysfunctional as everyone else's. There are lulls and comic misfires that feel like stocking stuffers thrown in to pad the simple story to feature length, and the manic banter comes a bit too fast for viewers to digest it all. Still, the visual gags will carry youngsters along, while there are plenty of clever wisecracks to keep their parents occupied. PG for some mild rude humor. 97 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
"The Descendants" — Alexander Payne makes movies about men on the brink — of a nervous breakdown, of personal or professional ruin and, ultimately, maybe even some hard-earned peace. That's certainly true of George Clooney here. As real-estate lawyer Matt King, he finds everything in his life is in flux and on the verge of collapse simultaneously. This isn't any easier even though he lives in Hawaii, a place that's supposed to be paradise. Clooney being Clooney, though, makes every stage of his character's arc believable, from grief through anger and eventual acceptance, and he gives a performance that's so understated as to appear effortless. Matt's wife, Elizabeth, is lying in a hospital bed in a coma following a boating accident. Matt, who hasn't been the most available or hands-on father, must now take care of the couple's two daughters on his own: 17-year-old boarding school rebel Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old troublemaker Scottie (Amara Miller). Then Alexandra drops another bombshell on her father: Elizabeth was having an affair at the time of her accident. As if all this weren't enough to handle, Matt's enormous family has put him in charge of deciding what to do with the 25,000 acres of pristine land on Kauai that they've inherited from their royal Hawaiian ancestors. Payne's pacing is often so languid that we don't feel the sort of mounting tension that we should. But the story keeps us guessing as to where it will go, and it features some piercing moments of emotional truth. R for language including some sexual references. 115 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic
"Happy Feet Two" — The dancing, singing penguins are as adorable as ever. Yet a couple of shrimplike krill almost steal the show in this animated sequel that sticks to the formula of the original while adding enough variety to give it a life of its own. It helps to have Brad Pitt and Matt Damon voicing the krill with great companionability as they join a vocal cast that includes returning stars Elijah Wood and Robin Williams. Wood's tap-dancing penguin now is a dad dealing with a misfit, runaway son embarrassed over his own lack of rhythm. Director and co-writer George Miller, who handled the same chores on the 2006 Academy Award-winning first film, keeps the focus on penguins in peril while adding an interesting nature-in-perspective angle with the side journey of those tiny krill trying to find their place in a world of bigger, hungrier things. The sequel delivers the key ingredients that made its predecessor such a hit: lovable characters, a rich blend of pop tunes employed in showstopping song-and-dance numbers and remarkable Antarctic landscapes whose bleak beauty pops off the screen even more than in the original, thanks to some of the finest use of 3-D animation since the digital age brought an extra dimension to the screen. PG for some rude humor and mild peril. 99 minutes. Three stars out of four.
— David Germain, AP Movie Writer
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