The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A ben’s TEN Holiday Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Arthur Christmas (2011)
Directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook
Rated PG
Starring: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, and Bill Nighy

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:

In the modern era, Santa’s work on Christmas Eve has become one part industrial revolution and one part military complex. Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent), serving as mostly a symbolic figurehead, makes the occasional appearance and gift drop, while hundreds of thousands of elves deliver all the presents to all of the children of the world in exacting precision. The whole operation is handled by Santa’s eldest son, Steve (voiced by Hugh Laurie), back at Headquarters.

When one lone delivery is missed to one lone child, Steve and Santa chalk it up to a statistical anomaly, within the accepted margin of error. But Santa’s youngest son, the screw-up Arthur (James McAvoy), is appalled. With the help of Grand-Santa (Bill Nighy) and the diligent packer-Elf Bryone (voiced by a charming Ashley Jensen), and riding in the just-unpacked-from-mothballs Sleigh guided by untrained reindeer, Arthur will stop at nothing until every child on Earth has gotten his or her present.

Beneath the Surface 

There are a couple of interesting things at work in this film. At its very core, this is the classic Christmas tale of the ‘true believer’ inspiring the rest of the world and showing us the true meaning of the holiday. Arthur Christmas surely fits this role perfectly. Despite just a few moments of self-doubt, there is little question as to whether he will accomplish his goal, nor to whose ‘spirit’ will triumph in the end. Arthur’s heart and belief that as long as every child wakes up to a present on Christmas morning, the true meaning of ‘Santa’ will remain in tact, will clearly defeat his brother’s more cynical, methodical approach to the season.

And despite the obvious road the movie is heading down, the pay-off is still quite rewarding, and the movie a true delight. The voice acting is all marvelous, the script clever and unique, and the visuals sharp. For all of these reasons, the movie should certainly be added to the annual holiday viewing list.

Perhaps the more interesting angle at work here, though, is the militarization of Santa’s operation. Santa goes on missions; the Elves operate like a well-trained military, delivering gifts with precision and very little glee. Santa is an old, out-of-touch General, holding on for the glory of the missions rather than the joy of the children. Steve runs a tight and efficient ship, but cares more about the numbers and the efficacy of the delivery than what is being delivered to whom and for what. This all makes for a unique view on Santa and an interesting and funny opening sequence. And it’s rare to see an attempt at a semi-coherent rationalization of how all of those presents can be delivered in one evening.

On all accounts, it also succeeds. In many ways, this is the most interesting part of the movie. What lies underneath, though, is perhaps the greatest truth of the movie. While Santa and Steve see a successful mission, Arthur sees a failure. Arthur understands that it’s not toys and presents being delivered, it’s belief and faith and love. All the intelligence in the world can not substitute for even the smallest dose of heart. As we see time and again in the best of these holiday movies, the remedy to the trappings of over-commercialization at Christmas isn’t necessarily to eschew gift-giving; it’s to get back to the heart of why we give gifts in the first place: to give people a piece of our hearts, a dose of love. Arthur understands it’s not that a bike needs to be under that forgotten girl’s tree on December 25th; it’s that no girl should ever be forgotten in the first place. There is no acceptable margin of error for the true meaning of Christmas.


Cocoa Factor = 8.5 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 9 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 9 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 8 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 8.5 out of 10


About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of

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