What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that since this is the first Christmas-themed movie of the season, kids might be extra interested in seeing it. The trailers and ads feature the comedy's silly elves and slapsticky nature, and that's exactly what you get (along with a heaping sleighful of brand-name toys). This is no serious, high-minded holiday story; it's a simple comedy about Santa's jealous brother. While there's nothing scary or troubling in the movie, there are a few scenes of couples kissing (including Santa and his wife, and two elves) and a sad moment when an orphan says he doesn't believe in Santa. Fred and Santa get into a fight, as do Fred and a group of angry Salvation Army Santas, and there's some relatively mild language ("crap," "hell," etc.).
What's the story?
As St. Nick's older brother, Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) has lived for hundreds of years in his sibling's shadow, and he doesn't like it. Fred's dream is to open an off-track betting facility, but to get the down payment he needs for the lease, he has to call in a favor from the North Pole. Santa (Paul Giamatti) is willing to help, but only if Fred flies up to pitch in during the pre-Christmas rush. To add dramatic tension, a mysterious efficiency expert named Clyde (Kevin Spacey) hovers around Santa's workshop with a clipboard and a scowl to determine whether Santa can keep up with the growing demands of today's greedier kids. If the elves can't meet their quotas, Santa will get pink slipped.
Is it any good?
FRED CLAUS is unlikely to become a contemporary Christmas classic, but it features a top-notch cast, slapstick gags, and plenty of North Pole mayhem. Most of the film's humor comes from Vaughn in improv mode. His lightning-paced delivery is always a treat. However, the entire movie, goes on a tad long, especially considering that family comedies are usually 90 minutes (Fred clocks in at 116).
Even a 5-year-old can tell early on that Fred will rise to the occasion to save his brother -- not to mention all the Christmas-celebrating children of the world -- from a toy-less, Santa-less holiday. But by the time "Silent Night" starts playing, even the Grinchiest viewer will feel a slight tug on the heartstrings, even if it's predictable movie manipulation.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the movie's themes: sibling rivalry, naughty behavior, and Christmas greed. Santa's parents, especially his mother, clearly favored him over Fred. How did that make Fred feel and act toward his family? How does he redeem himself? Why does the average Santa letter include a request for 15 toys? Is that a good thing? Are there any toys you want after seeing them in the movie? Why do you want them? What do you think about Fred's comment that no kid is naughty, and that every kid deserves one toy? Do you think that's true? Kids: How can you help a child like Slam receive a gift this holiday season?