Get Santa review: This Christmas tale is a real cracker
This seasonal selection is wrapped up in festive frolics for all the family with several stars shining bright, says Andrew Johnston
If you were looking for the perfect director for the latest family Christmas film, the man who made horror movies Creep, Severance, Triangle and Black Death probably wouldn't be at the top of your list. Yet the appointment of Christopher Smith to helm Get Santa proves to be an inspired choice.
From Ridley Scott's production house, Bristol-born Smith's first foray into child-friendly fare is a lively, intelligent and witty romp.
When Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) crashes his sleigh in woods near London and is subsequently arrested trying to break his reindeer out of Battersea Dogs Home, nine-year-old Tom (Kit Connor) and his ex-jailbird dad (Rafe Spall) embark on a madcap plot to break him out of prison and save Christmas.
Cue fish-out-of-water humour as Saint Nick tries to survive the actual nick, slapstick gags involving bolshie dwarfs and flatulent reindeer and a sweet central relationship between a father and his son.
Smith's script delivers clever lines, funny jokes and a plot that keeps you engaged from start to finish. After a steady build-up that brings to mind the old Children's Film Foundation flicks or perhaps live-action Disney, Get Santa cranks up the spectacle for its final act in Lapland.
It's exciting and expensive-looking, though full marks to the filmmakers for using real animals, rather than charmless computer graphics. Spall and newcomer Connor are fantastic, perfectly judging the difficult relationship between a lad and his dad, who has been off the scene for some years and is eager to reconnect.
Unsurprisingly, the estimable Broadbent makes a superb Santa, essaying the great man with no trace of irony, yet managing to play along with the edgy situations the character finds himself in to great comic effect. In particular, Broadbent's scenes with Stephen Graham, who plays the prison's worldly-wise barber and 'Mad Jimmy Claus's' inside man, are comedy gold.
Warwick Davis - strangely billed fourth behind Ewen Bremner, who's barely featured - also conjures up several hearty laughs. Davis builds on his work in Ricky Gervais's Life's Too Short with another amusingly self-deprecating turn.
It's not every day you see the erstwhile star of the horror franchise Leprechaun and Super Hans from Peep Show (actor Matt King) having a punch-up in a prison gym to Shakin' Stevens's Merry Christmas Everyone.
Meanwhile, Davis can now add "I'm not an elf" to his catalogue of catchphrases.
Get Santa is an old-fashioned romp at heart, and sure to delight children and parents alike, even if it is quite subversive for this kind of thing. Its focus on a broken family, with a dad in prison, a mum trying to do the right thing and a step-dad stuck in the middle, will, sadly, be recognisable to many, though it is affecting without being patronising.
And who knows? Maybe Get Santa 2 will go further, and have same-sex parents and their gender-neutral offspring trying to help Santa and one of his elves organise a civil partnership.