Why Fred Claus Worked
Finally got around to seeing FRED CLAUS.
It’s an okay Christmas movie – hits all the emotional beats, not too complicated, doesn’t do anything to upset the kiddies (or the people who think they know what upsets the kiddies).
For me it was just a decent addition to the Christmas oeuvre, until one scene elevated the whole movie for me. SPOILER ALERT, this scene comes at the end of the movie, so I will be giving away all kinds of plot points.
It’s an unexpected scene – in its tone and subtext. And the unexpected is what makes it work.
Let me set it up a bit. As is wont with this kind of movie, Christmas is almost cancelled (and by Christmas being cancelled, we mean that Santa doesn’t give presents to kids – see Coryopolis 82: Saving Christmas, about halfway through the Steelehouse Podcast #82 – to find out why Christmas can’t be “saved”).
But at the last minute, Fred’s heart grows three sizes and he saves Christmas by delivering all the presents just in time. Here’s where the party scene is supposed to take place (the writers even talk about a post-delivery party earlier, setting you up for a dance blow-out celebration).
You know the scene, where everyone applauds and cheers, and Princess Leia hands out medals, and the party atmosphere fills in any lingering doubts about the victory of the movie.
But instead of a party, the elves celebrate with another tradition (one that we never knew about, another reason it works). They all gather around the snow globe that allows Santa to see any child at any time (in order to determine if they are naughty or nice), and everyone that worked so hard to get the presents out there…
Watch as the children of the world open their gifts.
This is a heart rending moment, and here’s why:
The tone. This is not a moment of wild celebration, but rather one of reverence. Rather than party music, an appropriately worshipful “Silent Night” fills the sound track. We are watching something more than presents, more than stuff, we are watching something transcendent…
And the theme, which coalesces at this moment. As with all such movies where Christmas needs saving, this one has to tell us what Christmas is. Not so easy, especially in a world without Jesus (wouldn’t want to turn anyone off by having Linus give a speech about God).
Even Ron Howard’s Grinch movie couldn’t come up with anything more than a generic “Christmas is good cuz we all feel good at Christmas” – even though his source material gave him all the clues he needed. (And why his movie doesn’t work, a mon avis.)
What about Fred Claus? There’s a whole lot of themes, family (Santa has a brother), love, taking risks, blah blah blah.
But as to Christmas, the movie initially looks very standard. But it isn’t so.
Three points intersect here:
One, a lost kid gets found. A standard set up, an orphan kid worries that Santa won’t be able to find him Christmas morning, as he is a lost child that no one cares about. (Rest assured Santa/Fred finds him.)
Two, it’s not about the greed. It is made clear that not every kid is going to get what they want – some in fact are getting what we adults might consider pretty lame gifts. It isn’t about “what” they get – but rather that they are the recipients of a gift (or the gift, depending on how well my argument comes out here).
Third, who is worthy. One of the ways that Christmas is sabotaged is when Fred ignores the “naughty/nice” list, labeling every kid “nice” – thus creating the need for more presents than the North Pole can handle.
Fred even tries to defend his actions morally, telling Santa that there are no naughty kids. Okay, I admit I turned off here. Every criminal is good at heart, we just need fewer prisons and more group hugs. Yada, yada, yada. This is Hollywood, after all.
But I don’t think they are saying what they are usually saying. It isn’t about throwing out consequences.
What is really being said is that Christmas itself isn’t about consequences – Christmas isn’t about getting what we deserve – there are other times and places to get what we deserve (Fred does have consequences to his actions, and he knows that he is the one that earned them).
Rather, Christmas is about everyone (for all have been naughty and fallen short of the nice list of Santa) being so loved that they are actively sought out, found and offered a gift.
Which is why watching the children of the world open their gifts, be it bicycles or hula hoops, is a moment deserving of reverence.
And why this movie works.
Just my thoughts,