A Meta Holiday Movie

Why Arthur Christmas appeals to people of all ages

Mahi Kaur, Contributor 

When naming a favourite holiday movies, the first few choices that come to mind may be ElfHow The Grinch Stole Christmas, or It’s a Wonderful Life. Or perhaps a Tim Burton holiday movie if you’re edgy enough (which is something I’ve realized I am not). Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas are both visually striking movies that not only appeal to more than one holiday (hello Halloween!), but also define and reflect subcultures within our society that go against mainstream notions of what a “holiday” movie looks like.  

Despite the many wonderful options that exist, my favourite holiday movie for the time being remains Arthur Christmas, written and directed by Sarah Smith. The movie provides a 21st century spin on the timeless concept of the magic of Christmas. Santa’s sleigh, for example, isn’t fueled from people believing in Santa but rather “POTASH OF CARBONILOROXY ANILOCITRATE.” I don’t know what that is, but it does sound pretty scientifically testable.The movie satisfies the inner child, bombarding our overly logical brains with an unapologetic sense of magic. 

The 2011 animated film portrays Santa Claus’ North Pole workshop as an old family run business that has gone through a series of transformations reflected by leading global events of the 20th century, (two World Wars, industrialization, and the technological revolution). The opening scene takes us through the Santa Claus Hall of Fame—contrary to popular belief, Santa isn’t one person. Instead, it’s a position passed down through the Claus patriarchy, starting with St. Nicholas as “Santa Claus the First”, and leading to the movies current “Santa Claus the Twentieth”. Although Arthur Christmas is dressed as a traditional holiday movie about Santa, it poses realistic questions about our bureaucratic mass-consumer society. 

The combination of old and new define this film, and the unique and eccentric characters provide endless entertainment. The film’s namesake, Arthur, is the youngest son of the current Santa, a cheerful passionate young adult, with awkward tendencies. Alongside Arthur, we also meet Steve, his overtly masculine older brother. Arthur’s father: Santa Claus the Twentieth, is a relaxed and traditionally jolly looking old Santa Claus  who is close to retirement. We also meet Arthur’s grandfather: Santa Claus the Nineteenth, the decorated retired army general, with a hint of insanity.  

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Santa Dynasty without the mass employment of highly efficient elves. The conflict of the movie revolves around a present being missed, despite the long perfected system of Christmas gift giving. Arthur, who is not much involved in the actual operation of Santa’s gift giving, but responds to letters from children, is most affected by this error, and takes off on a mission to try and deliver the missing present to the child.  

The film plays with capitalist consumer culture ideology and brings both symbolic irony and wit to the plot. Arthur Christmas has a charismatic appeal for several reasons—it stays true to the traditional Christmas movie narrative, while answering the practical, adult-brain question of how Santa’s Northpole Workshop would fit into our modern world. It has a little something for both children and adults, without mature themes and underlying messages bleeding into the overlying magic of the holidays the way they do in movies like Elf or Edward Scissorhands. Overall, it’s a great holiday movie—you may even forget you’re an adult for a little while. 

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