We all know there really is a Santa Claus.

And as hard as it is to explain how he does what he does on Christmas Eve every year, it’s just something we accept (despite the still-ingenious ‘The Physics of Christmas’, which makes the rounds on the Interwebs every year.)

To be honest, though, the theory put forth in Arthur Christmas (along with the movie’s almost constant questioning of whether there really is a Santa) might just be enough to have your little one starting to doubt the big guy’s existence.

You’ve been warned.

Yes Aardman Animation’s Arthur Christmas is clever and entertaining (in the same way that their Wallace and Gromit shorts are– not laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly amusing), but it’s just a little, well… unbelievable. And, yes, I know we’re talking about Santa here.

Instead of a simple wooden sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, we’re told that the toys get delivered via a ginormous, cherry red spaceship piloted by a legion of elves. And then? Then we learn that it’s not Santa that does the delivering at all. A series of field elf battalions (their words, not mine) rappel down from the spaceship like a festive Seal Team Six, presents in hand, to place gifts under the tree with surgical precision.

Sure, Santa’s there to oversee the operation, but he comes off as little more than the lame duck President who arrives after the bullets have stopped flying to declare “Mission Accomplished”.

And the military allusion is particularly fitting, by the way, since the fluffy red suit worn by Arthur Christmas‘ Santa is now adorned with military ribbons, and the entire operation is run by his jarhead son, who’s outfitted with Christmas-y camouflage and combat boots.

Somewhere, Clement Clarke Moore is weeping.

But I digress. The main story of the movie concerns Santa’s other son Arthur (James McAvoy), the bumbling black sheep of the Claus family. His Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) is retired, his dad (Jim Broadbent) is the current figurehead Santa, and his brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is heir to the throne (and the aforementioned camo-wearer).

When it’s discovered that one toy was accidentally not delivered on Christmas Eve, Arthur steps up and takes it upon himself to make sure it gets to where it was supposed to go. Steve, however, doesn’t see what the big deal is, and Santa himself (seriously?) is too tired to help young Arthur.

Fortunately Grandsanta steps up to the plate, along with Present-Wrapper Elf Bryony, and they all set out in the original wooden sleigh to make things right.

Give first-time director Sarah Smith credit– she keeps things hopping right along. The computer animation’s in the same whimsical style as Aardman’s brilliant (and woefully underappreciated) Flushed Away, and the script, which Smith co-wrote with Peter Baynham (Russell Brand’s Arthur), is as smart as they come, Santa theory notwithstanding.

I’m not convinced it’s destined to spend posterity on the annual list of must-see holiday kids’ movies, but Arthur Christmas is a perfectly fine diversion over the holidays.

…as long as you’re very clear with your kids– it’s just fiction; the real Santa still rides in the rickety wooden sleigh with his trusty reindeer.

The last thing we all need is kids believing that Santa’s tooling around in a spaceship. That’s just crazy talk.

3.5/5 stars