Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Fred Claus’ brings cheer back to holiday films

The holiday season has arrived, and with it comes the usual
onslaught of saccharine films about the meaning of Christmas. Advertised as "a
new kind of Christmas fable," Warner Bros' "Fred Claus" attempts to rise to the
overly festive occasion from a different angle with a film about Santa's older
brother Fred. As audiences can imagine, being the brother of one of the world's
most generous and hardworking fictional characters must be rough — and so is
the film, around its icy edges. Though "Fred Claus" has its weaknesses — mainly
disconcerting special effects and a hole-filled plot — the film's heartwarming,
underdog message prevails.

The film's two main characters are brothers Fred and Nick
Claus, who were born and raised in a bucolic storybook cottage some years ago.
The film seems to suggest that it's during their youth that younger brother
Nick invents the familiar Christmas traditions of today. One scene in
particular depicts Nick as he cuts down Fred's favorite tree to bring inside
the house as a decoration. Unfortunately, as the brothers grow older, Fred is
constantly overshadowed by Nick's saintly deeds and becomes increasingly more
resentful and naughty. Eventually, Nick becomes jolly old St. Nicolas,
solidifying Fred's position as the family's perpetual underachiever.

Somehow, we flash forward to the present day: The narrator
hurriedly gives an irritating and abstruse explanation for the film's modern
setting, vaguely mentioning how the family of Santa Claus never ages.
Ironically, Fred (Vince Vaughn, "The Break-Up") is a repo man who is constantly
bombarded by Christmas cheer. After several mishaps regarding his financial
stability, Fred lands himself in jail and is forced to call his brother, Nick "Santa"
Claus (Paul Giamatti, "Lady in the Water"), for help. Ever the pushover, Santa
agrees on one condition: Fred must come to the North Pole and help prepare for
Christmas in order to pay off his debt.


Unfortunately, the North Pole's toy production is put into
jeopardy when Clyde (Kevin Spacey, "Superman Returns"), a slimy efficiency
expert arrives to evaluate the workshop. Apparently, Santa's elves cannot keep
up with the increasing materialism of today's society, and the North Pole is
put on a three-strike policy — three strikes and Santa's operation will be shut
down permanently.

Meanwhile, Fred is told to assess whether the children of
the world are naughty or nice, a task with which he finds he has moral issues.
After all, he wonders, doesn't every child deserve a toy on Christmas? Fred's
decision to mark all naughty children "nice," however, causes a demand overload
and an ensuing third strike against his brother. The fate of the North Pole and
all Christmas joy now rests on the shoulders of Fred Claus. In a moment
reminiscient of Disney's 1994 holiday film "The Santa Clause," Fred dons the
big red suit and attempts to save Christmas.

One of the major points to note in "Fred Claus" is the
ironic, yet refreshing casting. It's surprising to see Vince Vaughn in a more
genuine, likable role, despite his frequent nonsensical outbursts. Paul
Giamatti portrays the perfect modern Santa Claus, complete with a nervous
overeating habit caused by holiday stress. It's Kevin Spacey's performance as
the creepy and emotionless efficiency expert, however, that seems oddly dark
and complicated for this children's movie.

Some of the film's special effects, on the other hand, leave
much to be desired. The CGI effect of superimposing rapper Ludacris' head onto
a considerably smaller body to make him look like an elf simply appears

The plot also seems disjointed, shifting from incredibly
sinister moments to joyous ones without any transition. Consequently, gaps in
the plot fail to answer the questions children actually ponder each year: How
do reindeer fly? How could one man possibly reach every child in the world in
one night? Obviously no one can honestly answer questions such as these, but
this script fails to even attempt to address them.

Despite these annoyances, "Fred Claus" manages to send the
inspired message that there are no bad children, just kids who are unlucky or
scared. (Even though the film seems to suggest that Christmas is nothing
without toys, at least there is equality in the gift distribution.) Everyone
deserves a present on Christmas, regardless of his or her situation.

Though this holiday film is certainly underwhelming for the
discerning critic, the average moviegoer will be able to appreciate the warm
and fuzzy message this film sends. Big name actors, a few good laughs and a
heartwarming twist on the meaning of Christmas save "Fred Claus."

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