Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Arthur Christmas (2011)**½

PG, 97 min.
Directors: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
Writers: Peter Baynham, Sarah Smith
Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Marc Wootton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria

“Arthur Christmas” was last year’s big Christmas movie; and now that Christmas is rolling around again, it finds its way to the home video market. The movie seems to be a British anomaly in a genre generally dominated by American productions. It’s nice to see a slightly different take culturally on what is dominated by what seem to be American holiday ideals. However, the movie isn’t really different enough in its plotting and themes to distinguish it from the annual Christmas entries.

The movie looks at the actual family behind Santa Claus, a concept that is threatening to be overused in the holiday genre before too long. The film is a little murky about exactly what the family name behind Santa Claus is. Are they the Santas or the Clauses or the Christmases? I’m really not sure from this movie. It’s story centers on the youngest member of the family, Arthur. He seems to be referred to as Arthur Christmas, but the family is usually called the Santas. You see the confusion.

Arthur’s dad is Santa Claus, who’s real first name is Malcolm. Arthur’s brother is Steve, who is also generally thought to be the first in line to be the next Santa. He runs Christmas Eve like a military exercise. I’m not sure if we ever get the first name of Grandsanta. So you’ve got three generations of the family business, and they say you shouldn’t mix business with family. Anyway, Arthur is a bit of a bumbler. No one thinks he’s really good for much beyond answering Santa letters. Grandsanta feels some of the same sentiment toward him since he’s been put out to pasture.

Well, needless to say, one of Santa’s packages isn’t delivered with this year’s shipment and Arthur and Grandsanta take it upon themselves to deliver it. Grandsanta’s reasons might not be as pure as Arthur’s. Adventure and hilarity ensue. The movie is quite funny in its depiction of the mechanics of delivering billions of presents in one twenty-four hour period. Much has been seen before in countless other Christmas movies.

My biggest problem with the movie is this demystification of the Santa Claus myth. Part of the magic of Santa is that all he does is deliver Christmas gifts to children who have been good. The more we dissect the inner workings of the North Pole and the more we humanize Santa, the less magic he seems to be. I like the Christmas movie where Santa isn’t the central figure much better. Rudolph is a classic because he was an addition to the myth, not a dissection of it.

I wonder if children perceive Christmas differently than I did as a kid. It was mostly imagination then. Now, it seems to all be laid out right in front of them. Does that make it easier or more difficult to discern its truth? Is it harder on children to learn the truth now? How much damage does it do the more real we make these characters for them?

I don’t know. I don’t mean to be harsh. The movie is charming and embraces the spirit of the season. But it also made me think about how the holiday has changed. You can’t stop something from evolving, but I do so cherish that childhood mystery of it all.

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