Arthur Christmas 3D by Rick Burin

THIS is Aardman’s best full-length film to date, trumping Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (disappointing), Chicken Run (annoying) and Flushed Away (set down a toilet).

It’s a great mix of myth-making, heart and visual humour that sparks into life with a spectacular early sequence showing a high-tech present drop by hundreds of highly-trained elves. Fast, funny and inventive, it sets the tone perfectly.

Writing to Santa, six-year-old Cornish girl Gwen has asked a few tricky questions, but the film is happy to answer them, creating a cleverly-devised, believable world that features a whole family of Father Christmases: past, present and future.

There’s 70-year-old Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent), who’s just going through the motions, his father (Bill Nighy) – a crotchety old sexist – and his two sons: good-hearted, clumsy Arthur (James McAvoy), and Steve (Hugh Laurie) – solid management material, if a touch unfeeling.

Steve’s finely-tuned, tech-savvy Christmas Eve operation is something to behold, but when he accidentally overlooks one child – Gwen – it’s up to Arthur and a ragtag band of festive misfits to save the day.

It’s an unusual film, in that it has no love interest and no real baddie.

But, co-written by director Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham – who has had a hand in landmark comedies from Fist of Fun to The Day Today and Borat – it’s deft, amusing and imaginative, with intelligent plotting and the odd concession to pitch-black humour, taking in the Blitz, the Cuban Missile Crisis and possible death in the desert.

Not that it’s a dark film: quite the opposite.

It’s simply joyous, glowing with a love of Christmas (like Arthur’s slippers), stuffed full of jokes (like a stocking) and – aside from the word “cookie” (they’re called biscuits) – possessing that certain idiosyncratic Britishness we’ve come to expect from Aardman (like Wallace and Gromit).

The frenetic set-pieces are a wow, the sentimental message is never mawkish and the voicework is very impressive, particularly from Broadbent and the scene-stealing Jane Horrocks.

Indeed, all of the elves are unfailingly hilarious, while rarely has a film generated so many laughs from the combination of old man and dustbin.