We are heading into the homestretch of 2011, with 11 more major films slated for release in the final three weeks of the year - including “The Sitter” and “New Year’s Eve” this weekend.

As we pause for a deep breath before that final push, here’s a chance to catch up on a pair of animated films battling “The Muppets” for the family market.

The first film, “Arthur Christmas” (B-), is a mildly entertaining holiday diversion.

“Arthur Christmas” tells the story of Santa’s youngest son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), a carefree lad thrust into action on an urgent mission when one of the toys is accidentally left behind.

Aiding Arthur on the mission is his grandfather (voiced by Bill Nighy), the former Santa, and a determined elf named Bryony (voiced by Ashley Jensen).

This is a simple little film, but it kept me interested. I enjoyed the idea of ninja-like elves helping to make Santa’s mission feel like some sort of top-secret military mission, and it’s a visually appealing movie (especially in 3-D).

The cast is pretty solid as well, with Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton adding to the talent.

While “Arthur Christmas” is a lot of fun, the same can’t be said for “Happy Feet 2” (C-), the lifeless sequel to the 2006 smash. I was a fan of that original, but this one is pointless.

The biggest problem is the story, if you want to call it that, which is flimsy at best. It all revolves around Mumble the penguin (voiced by Elijah Wood) and his son Erik (voiced by Ava Acres) desperately trying to save their fellow penguins when they are trapped after a huge storm.

It’s a mission that quite honestly takes a lot longer than it should have (at least it feels like it). Maybe it is because there are so many voices (ranging from singer Pink to Brad Pitt and Matt Damon playing krills), it all feels overstuffed and way too busy.

Then there are the song-and-dance numbers that just keep going on and on. I enjoyed the opening moments, but as the film wore on and the singing and dancing continued to get wedged in, the more irritating the whole experience became.

“Happy Feet 2” is rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril. “Arthur Christmas” is rated PG for some mild rude humor. Both films are now playing at the Great Escape 12 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (A), one of the biggest surprises, and best films, of 2011.

A reboot of the 1968 science fiction classic “Planet of the Apes,” this installment takes place in modern-day San Francisco with a young scientist named Will Rodman (James Franco), who believes he has created a drug that will cure Alzheimer’s disease.

When his presentation goes awry, the project is suspended. Will continues to research on his own, using a young ape named Caesar as his prototype.

The drug allows Caesar to develop his intelligence and cognitive skills at an alarming rate, evolving into the most advanced of his species.

Will continues to work on the development of his drug, while Caesar continues to evolve, resulting in a series of events that lead to a potential war for supremacy between man and ape.

I’m probably not the only person who questioned the need for another version of “Apes,” but I have to say this reboot more than exceeded my expectations.

With computer-generated imagery work that rivals “Avatar” and a crisply paced film full of action under the direction of Rupert Wyatt, this alone makes “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” a fun film. The action starts with a great opening sequence and builds from there, with a great primate jailbreak and a rousing battle on the Golden Gate Bridge that is the best action sequence I’ve seen this year.

“Rise” could have easily rested on the CGI and action and been a satisfying film, but there is heart and soul here, too - thanks to Caesar, a fully fleshed-out and complex character. As the film progressed, I realized I had an emotional investment in the character. Credit stop-motion veteran Andy Serkis, the man behind the effects. His performance as Caesar, even if it is computer enhanced, is one of the best performances I’ve seen this year, transcending all the CGI.

It won’t happen, but I think Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for giving the kind of performance that really allows the audience to invest in the character.

However, I had a few minor quibbles. The human cast, not nearly as interesting as the primates, is upstaged, and the film has some formula moments - especially involving the typical big-business heavies. Still, I really enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” a lot. It’s that rare big-budget film that wowed me and surprised in ways I never imagined.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language. It will be available Tuesday on DVD.

— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also email him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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