Santacize: The Ultimate Santa Battle Round 2

Noah Thornburgh

Welcome back to the Santacized showdown, where overanalysis provides dedicated Christmas lovers with a compass to guide their Santa-related decisions.

Contestants this round are Arthur Claus, voiced by James McAvoy,  from 2011’s “Arthur Christmas” and Fred Claus, played by Vince Vaughn,from 2007’s “Fred Claus.” These movies have a crucial difference from last round’s films: Both of our contenders are relatives of their respective Santa Clauses. Arthur is the son of Malcolm, played by Jim Broadbent, who is Santa the 20th and Fred’s brother, played by Paul Giamatti, is Santa Claus.These character’s prior connection to the Claus himself must be kept in mind as judgements take place.

Arthur starts strong, sporting a cheerful Christmas sweater depicting snowfall as he eagerly answers children’s letters, carefully reading and responding to each one. He’s a sharp contrast to his older brother Steve, voiced by Hugh Laurie, whose cleverly devised system of hi-tech gadgetry and elf-powered acrobatics has turned Santa’s Christmas deliveries into a ruthlessly efficient machine delivering to billions around the globe, with a tiny margin of error.

Things get grimy when, with all deliveries complete, a wrapped toy is found in the workshop, meaning a kid has been missed. It seems that, of all Clauses on deck, only Arthur cares enough to deliver that one toy in the face of the two-billion that have just been successfully delivered. According to business-minded Steve, that one child is not worth re-booting the whole operation: “If everyone gave into the Christmas spirit, it would be chaos.” Points for Arthur, who would rather deal with chaos than have one child miss Christmas on his watch.

Fred has the opposite journey. Sporting the antithesis of the Christmas sweater–the leather jacket–Fred presents himself as thoroughly disgusted by Christmas and the sibling behind it. Fred despises Saint Nicholas for his generous disposition, permanent humility, handmade red suits, and overall outshining him throughout their childhood. Distaste is not the most Christmas-like attitude, but it’s hard not to sympathize with Fred, whose light can’t help but dim next to a character designed to be the embodiment of cheerful altruism. For now, Fred stays at even.

Moving on, Arthur has embarked on a quest to deliver that one gift in the few hours remaining before Christmas morning. Ultimately successful, with Arthur delivering the toy right as the sun crests the horizon, the quest represents an interesting notion of scale: Christmas spirit, in the world of “Arthur Christmas,” is not what drives the delivery of the two-billion presents that already occured in the film’s introduction; Christmas spirit is the force behind the delivery to one final child, one child whose Christmas morning matters as much as the rest.

There is no nuanced exploration of Christmas spirit in “Fred Claus.” After Christmas is sabotaged, it’s up to Fred to fill his suddenly dispirited brother’s snow boots and deliver those presents himself. The sabotage was done by overfilling the “Nice” list, subverting Santa’s arbitrary moral judgments. In a stunning display of movie ‘logic’, Fred gives up his somewhat pessimistic, realistically pragmatic worldview and miraculously delivers the surplus presents to all, believing suddenly that all “Naughty” delinquents are just misunderstood “Nice” kids. An unbelievable change-of-heart from a man who, in an earlier scene, had given a stern talking-to to a girl he saw as undeserving of a plasma television, presumably received on a Christmas morning.

The Santa that Fred becomes by the end of the film is one that says Christmas is equal to global getting, naughty or nice. Even Fred gets his own Christmas greed fulfilled, returning to his somehow still-enamored girlfriend, played by Rachel Weisz, as an admittedly homeless man with a surprise promise to move into her apartment, made A-OK by a quick jaunt around the Eiffel tower in the reindeer-powered sleigh. Points off from Fred for promoting an oxymoronic self-centered Christmas spirit.

Arthur comes out a clear winner, who never once views Christmas as anything other than a way to make others happy. His Santa is the Santa of service; Arthur is dedicated to all children, even those as statistically insignificant as the one-in-two-billion child that the film centered on.

Next week, Arthur Christmas goes up against last rounds winner, Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin, to determine who rightfully deserves the Santa suit.