Saturday, December 17, 2011

Arthur Christmas

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB (A-II) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -

Arthur Christmas (directed and co-written by Sarah Smith along with Peter Bayhman) follows a fairly dismal trend of politicizing children's films.

And folks I'm not making this up.  When the rather dunce-sounding Mr. Santa of the movie (voiced by Jim Broadbent) comes home to the North Pole at the end of Christmas Eve and declares to his assembled elves "Christmas Accomplished" under a giant banner proclaiming the same (when later it is found that a child did not get her present, that indeed "a child was left behind...") what parent in the entire western world would not immediately know who the joke is on -- former U.S. President George W. Bush?

This film _is_ otherwise very imaginative and witty.  Since Santa's workshop "can't be seen on Google Earth," it's imagined to exist in a "secret base" under the Arctic Ocean where the North Pole is.  Further, since Santa would be quite old if he were delivering presents since the time of St. Nicholas (who lived in the late 200s-early 300s), it is imagined that a Santa family has been delivering presents to children for all those hundreds of years.  And once one is talking about a family, conflicts can be expected:

Grandpa Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy) resents the innovations brought in by his son, the current Malcolm Santa, and especially by the Santa in waiting, Malcolm's eldest son Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie).  Steve had turned the delivery of presents into a virtual military operation complete with a new "stealth" virtual spaceship, rather than the old reindeer driven sleigh ... One _could_ wonder why with modern radar, we can't detect Santa's sleigh ... Well, it's thanks to Steve's "stealth technology." ... But Grandpa keeps talkin' about how it was "back in the day..." And he has a hoot when "With all that technology, you too still missed a child!  Why, back in 1942, during the height of World War II, I was being shot at by everybody... lost three reindeer that day ... but EVERY KID got a present that day."

Steve, for his part, can't understand why his dad just won't retire.  After all, he's been at it for 70 years and aside from driving the new 'stealth sleigh' (actually, it seems to be guided from Steve's 'mission control' at the North Pole anyway) dad Santa doesn't do anything except _be_ Santa, while Steve actually organizes everything.

Finally, there's younger son Arthur, who nobody really respects, but who's happy working in the "letter responding department" at Santa's workshop at the North Pole.  He's the one who brings it to the attention of Santa and Steve that a little girl named Gwen living in Cornwall, England didn't get the bike she had requested.

From this failure, the rest of the story unspools.  And here, I totally agree with the film's message: "If one kid doesn't matter, how can we be sure that _anybody_ matters?"  The elves ("the little people...") also get it immediately ... It just takes the rest of the Santa family a bit longer to figure it out.

Of course, it all works out well (ends happily ...).  I do think that the story was, on the whole, very, very nice.  I just wish the film makers had kept G.W. Bush out of it...

Finally, what's with the Santa family speaking with British accents?  For better or worse, the modern "Santa" tradition is a distinctly American one, born of the 1820s poem Twas the Night Before Christmas and if it had any European roots at all, those roots would have come from the old Dutch settlers of New York back when New York was called New Amsterdam.  


Though more or less generally secular, the film did take an interesting spin in this regard: throughout the movie, members of Santa's family made repeated references to traditional, Christian Christmas carols.  I counted three such references: Silent Night, Angels We Have Heard On High (In Excelsis Deo), and Good King Wenceslas.  They were all made in passing, and in the case of Silent Night, not altogether respectfully.  Nevertheless, the references were there.

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