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Western Animation / Arthur Christmas

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"Operation Santa Claus is coming to town!"
Steve Claus

Arthur Christmas is a 2011 CGI animated film produced by Aardman Animations. It is their second attempt at CGI and their first film produced in their partnership with Sony Pictures Animation.

The film is set on Christmas Eve, and at last reveals the answer to every child's question: "So how does Santa Claus deliver all those presents in one night?" It's thanks to Santa's ultra-high-tech operation hidden beneath the North Pole, a veritable army of elves, and a cloaked "sleigh" the size of a small city. It also turns out that being Santa Claus is an inheritable position, passed from father to son. Except this time, there are two sons who are prospective Santas: Arthur, whose heart is in the right place but is a bumbler, and his brother Steve, who is extremely efficient but more serious. Their father Malcolm, the current Santa, is little more than a figurehead who isn't familiar with how anything in his company works. When one out of the 2 billion presents is accidentally not delivered, it's up to Arthur to complete the mission - with a little help from his grandfather (the previous Santa Claus) and a plucky female elf named Bryony - before Christmas morning dawns and a child's heart breaks. This must be done, of course, without being discovered by the rest of the world. Naturally, this turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

The film's voice cast includes James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Malcolm, Ashley Jensen as Bryony and Bill Nighy as Grandsanta. The film was set for release on November 11, 2011, in the United Kingdom, and November 23, 2011, in the United States.

The official trailer can be viewed here.

Not to be confused with Arthur's Perfect Christmas, a 2000 Christmas Special with a talking bipedal aardvark.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abstract Scale: The weight of the load in Santa's sleigh, as seen in the opening, is measured in Playstations, of course.
  • All-CGI Cartoon: The second one ever done by Aardman Animations.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The elves are shown to be this for Arthur. He's a bit clumsy and slightly buffoonish (especially as compared to Steve, whom they all admire), so they say things behind his back like "Send him to the South Pole." Even his father isn't quite sure what to do with him. As shown during his Heroic BSoD, he's fully aware of it.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Grandsanta's old pet reindeer acts much more like a dog, including wagging his tail and panting with his tongue out (though some species of deer do actually wag their tails). Averted with the other reindeer who pull the old sleigh, who act more or less like reindeer do in real life.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Steve, who takes his job very seriously and as a result can come across as very distant towards his family, including Arthur.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Clauses. Despite having British accents, they treat England as a completely foreign country, and they seem to be very long-lived (Malcolm has been the current Santa for 70 years, and Grandsanta is 136 years old). On the other hand, it's shown that the figure of Santa Claus isn't immortal and it's an inheritable position that's been passed down from father to son over the centuries.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Parodied. One of the sub-plots of the film is the militaries of the world mistaking Arthur's mission for an alien invasion, which culminates in Arthur, Grandsanta and Bryony having to dodge anti-aircraft fire when they are near Trelew. Grandsanta also mentions he delivered presents in conflicted territory during both World Wars and his sled still has the bullet holes to prove it.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • When Steve manages to reach Arthur, Grandsanta and Bryony, Steve and Arthur argue about the importance of getting the bike to Gwen in time for Christmas. Arthur claims their father, the current Santa, must be unable to sleep out of worry, but Steve disproves this by attempting to call him and getting a voicemail message. Arthur can't bring himself to believe that Santa doesn't care if a single child isn't able to enjoy Christmas, at which point Bryony asks him if that's the case, why he was there instead of Santa, which stuns Arthur into silence.
    • When Steve shouts out that one child not getting their gift isn't even enough to impact the success ratio of the delivery system, he exclaims that just one kid doesn't matter. Cue every elf in attendance, in genuine bafflement, searching through their records and asking Steve which child is the one that doesn't matter.
  • Art-Shifted Sequel: Not only the second CGI feature to come out of a studio known almost exclusively for stop-motion, but also their first to have no resemblance to their instantly-recognizable Nick Park-inspired designs, to the point that many were unaware that it even was an Aardman film (and partially why it wasn't a success in it's original run, as it cost them their dyed-in-the-wool fans).
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • There is a city named Trelew in a Spanish-speaking country on the other side of the Atlantic from the one in Cornwall, but it's in Argentina, not Mexico. Appropriately, it was founded by a community of British immigrants - but from Wales, not Cornwall.
    • Their depiction of Toronto featured a viaduct similar to the city's Gardiner Expressway but with a railway track, even though the city has no elevated railway lines.
    • Ms Claus says Trelew is on a course of 187.7 degrees south of the North Pole. As the northernmost point on Earth, everywhere is 180 degrees south.
    • Sunrise in Plymouth - a city just over the Cornwall/Devon border - on Christmas Day is 8.16am, so it's safe to say it wouldn't be at 7.39am in Cornwall.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: When several governments think Santa's sleigh is an alien invasion, and try to shoot it down.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Clauses through and through are still family, so the love for each other is obviously there, they just don't show it as often.
  • Badass Santa:
    • While Steve isn't actually Santa, he more or less fills this role. Doubles as Badass in a Nice Suit, since his version of the costume, is a Versace.
    • Grandsanta. He did Christmas runs from 1871 to 1941, and took twelve shots during World War II. It's important to note that it wasn't necessarily the Axis powers that shot him. The Germans and Italians were Christian, too. That he performed his run with "six reindeer and a drunken elf" (in other words, he had none of the advanced technology that his grandchildren do, and he still pulled it off!) earns him extra points in the badass department.
    • In his own way, Arthur, especially since until recently he's lived a rather sheltered life at the North Pole. He is so determined to make sure that Gwen gets her present despite everyone else telling him that he can't do it, even when it means attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean in nothing but a tiny boat. He even learns to ride a bicycle without stabilisers during the climax, just to make sure that Gwen has her present before she wakes up on Christmas morning. And of course, he is appointed as the new Santa at the end of the film.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The polar bear in the teaser trailer.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Apparently Grandsanta almost caused the Cuban Missile Crisis to go hot when he took the old sleigh out for one last ride.
  • Berserk Button: Never mess with the wrapping if Bryony is on duty!
  • Bland-Name Product: The HOHO 3000 trackers are apparently manufactured by Snowy. Played for Laughs, given the fact that we see many more Sony products throughout the film.
  • The Board Game: Apparently there's one of Christmas. The whole holiday.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: This is what Arthur and Grandsanta do when they use "Eve", Grandsanta's old traditional sleigh that's pulled by actual reindeer.
  • Call-Back: Grandsanta impresses Arthur by making a cloud snowman. Quite a while later as part of the news reports about the 'alien menace' we see it has morphed into a more terrifying shape on one of the North Pole news screens.
  • Character Blog: There is a twitter account for someone called 'notanelf'
  • Chekhov's Gun: Tons. In approximately the order they're fired, Eve's 'camouflage' function allowing them to pretend to be a UFO, Arthur's electric slippers saving him from the lions (and the chihuahua), and then letting them divert the drone fighter, Gwen's bicycle giving Arthur a way to reach her house in time, and the S-1's underside night sky display giving the Santas a few extra minutes at Gwen's house.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Grandsanta's old pet reindeer sits in the back of the sleigh like a lump doing nothing the whole movie, right? Well, until all the other reindeer have gone missing and he manages to pull Eve through the final stretch.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Bryony's present wrapping skills come in handy for a few scenes.
  • Christmas Elves: Of course. Rather more militaristic than standard-issue, though, and with an extremely complex rank system. They specialize in covert ops. Each and every one is devoted to the notion that all children deserve and must have a Happy Christmas. It borders on fanatical. This becomes a problem when Steve suggests that just maybe a single child doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things, triggering a mass freak-out that almost results in the entire North Pole being destroyed. Oddly enough, they have varying racial backgrounds as well, since many of them have different skintones and accents.
  • Christmas Town: The North Pole is portrayed as a facsimile of a modern day factory and bunker. The North Pole holds the underground command centre of all of Christmas. There are the elf homes and the Clause living quarters and the S-1 dock and it has a big command centre were Steve runs the Christmas operation with millions of elves at the helm working away making a list and checking it twice.
  • Company Cross References:
    • When Steve enters Gwen's house to deliver the bicycle, he steps on a Shaun the Sheep toy.
    • Gwen has a Chop Socky Chooks poster in her room.
    • One of the elves in the opening montage puts model train tracks down in the same fashion as Gromit in The Wrong Trousers.
    • The first "waker" kid has an Open Season poster in his room.
  • Compromising Call: After crash landing Santa's sleigh in the Serengeti, Arthur manages to put a pride of lions to sleep by waving his musical slippers and singing. Afterward, the north pole tries to communicate with them via the sleigh. The resulting noise wakes the lions, leading Arthur and company to make a hasty escape.
  • Cone of Shame: Worn by Grandsanta's reindeer.
  • Cool Ship:
    • The S-1. A couple miles long, with flawless camouflage, capable of traveling seven million miles in a single night. And it runs on milk and cookies!
    • Eve is Grandsanta's vintage sleigh and even at a hundred and seventy years old, she's more powerful than any other aircraft aside from the S-1. She's even space-capable.
  • Covers Always Lie: One of the DVD releases has Gwen front and center with the rest of the cast. Though definitely an integral character, Gwen never directly interacts with the Clauses. The closest it gets to them meeting is her seeing Arthur for a few seconds.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover:
    • In Denmark, we see that people have a turkey in the oven come Christmastime, Christmas stockings hanging by the fireplace and Santa not showing up until everyone has gone to bed. That's not how a Danish Christmas works.note  To be fair, there are a lot of things the film did get right, such as the German custom of leaving shoes out instead of stockings, and even a quick reference to the Finnish myth that Santa lives in Lapland.
    • Also, the movie shows the centre in Toronto as being spelled as "center," the American spelling of "centre". This mistake is particularly bizarre since the film is produced by Aardman, who is located in Britain, where "center" is spelled "centre".
    • Screenwriter/Co-Director Sarah Smith explains their awareness of differences in Christmas celebrations internationally, and why certain things were ignored in this interview.
  • Cringe Comedy: Steve accidentally giving the replacement bike to the wrong child and then awkwardly attempting to take it back.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: All elves of different divisions are very specifically trained for that division. Bryony is trained only for gift wrapping, so it doesn't occur to her to use her HOHO for navigation sooner because she's only ever used it to store pictures of bows.
  • Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Nixon: Grandsanta is so scatterbrained he only remembers the names of three of the reindeer, listing off Dasher, Dancer and Prancer before referring to two of the others as Bambi and John. At this point, Grandsanta doesn't even try remembering the names, referring to one of them as "you there with the white ear" and the rest simply as "you". The epilogue keeps these names.
  • Deconstruction: The movie draws from multiple contrasting pop-culture interpretations of the character of Santa Claus. Is he the historical St. Nicholas? An impossibly old man with a team of reindeer and a sleigh? A jolly fat man who enjoys pies and sherry? Or is he a modern CEO who applies advanced Magitek to the problem of visiting every child in a single night? Yes. Yes, all of those people either have been, or are vying to become, the Legacy Character of Santa, they all disagree how best to do the job... and they're all related.
  • Determinator:
    • Gwen will get that bike by sunrise of Christmas morning if Arthur has anything to say about it, dammit.
    • Bryony will not let a present be delivered unwrapped, even if she has to wrap it while Arthur is still using it.
  • Disney Death: Grandsanta. In an extremely touching moment, he sacrifices himself to protect Arthur - but it turns out he outfell the explosion and shows up a couple minutes later in a wheely bin.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Clauses; they're even described that way in one of the official synopses of the film. Steve and Grandsanta are constantly battling over the way to handle the operation, Malcolm is relatively out of touch with everything and doesn't realize that he's become nothing more than a figurehead, Margaret is the Only Sane Man who tries to maintain order, and Arthur...just wants everyone to be happy. By the end of the film, they are.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Arthur snaps out of his Heroic BSoD by realizing that who delivers the gifts and how are not what's important; as long as it gets to the child, the spirit of Santa Claus came through.
  • Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: According to the statistics, averted. They deliver two billion presents, but only to six hundred million children out of the world's 1.9 billion.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Not counting the prologue, the whole film takes place during Christmas Eve and ends with the sun rising on Christmas Day.
  • Fictional Board Game: Arthur tries to soothe some strained family relations by sitting them all down to a friendly game of "Christmas: The Board Game" after their Christmas dinner. And as is tradition with any family playing board games at Christmas, it's beset by bickering over who gets which player token, accusations of cheating, and ends with the board overturned and everyone angry at everyone else.
  • Genki Girl: Bryony.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Grandsanta. He's 136 years old, and doesn't hesitate to act like it.
    Grandsanta: They used to say it was impossible to teach a woman to read!
  • Happily Ever After: Everyone, in the epilogue. Even the reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, B-Bambi, John, You With The White Ear, You, and You.
  • Happily Married: Malcolm and Margaret - Santa and Mrs. Claus, that is.
  • Hartman Hips: Chief De Silva in her strict black pantsuit. Her hips, somewhat appropriately, look like a bell.
  • Heroic BSoD: Arthur suffers an intense one after he realizes his father, Malcolm, doesn't truly live up to the mythic image of Santa, being instead a doddering figurehead.
  • Homemade Sweater from Hell: Arthur wears one, willingly, since tacky Christmas sweaters are part of the season's magic. According to the production notes, he has a Christmas sweater for every day of the year.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: A Zig-Zagging Trope. The Santas over the years have used various methods combining traditional (a sleigh-shaped delivery craft) with new technology (like a several terabyte database of all the children's gifts) plus an army of extremely well-organized and coordinated elves to visit every single house, with Santa only placing the last present of the city himself.
  • I Call It "Vera": Grandsanta affectionately calls his old sleigh Evie, and a plaque with "Eve" written on it is on the front of the sleigh.
  • Irony: Grandsanta regularly sneers at the S-1, calling it a spaceship and not a proper sleigh. By the end of the movie, Evie the magic sleigh has been mistaken for a UFO several times.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: As part of their cold detachment from the children they deliver to, besides Steve referring to Gwen by her assigned number, Peter calls Gwen "it".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Grandsanta, though he appears grumpy and has a very self-centered ego, telling his grandson that he cares about the kid while really just wanting to prove he is right, he later shows to genuinely love and care about Arthur, and deep down, the rest of his family as well.
    • Steve, to a lesser extent. He's the guy who wants to keep Christmas up and running but wants his family to acknowledge his accomplishments and respect him for it, understandably so. He also has the tendency to focus on the logistics of Christmas overlooking the joy it brings to children. By the end of the movie he shows he really does love his family and gains the personal experience of seeing the delight that comes when a child opens their gift.
  • Legacy Character: The title of Santa Claus is established as being passed down from father to son. The opening shot of the film demonstrates this trope beautifully as it pans across the wall full of portraits, showing us how the costume and the man have changed over the centuries (naturally, it's shown that Saint Nicholas was the very first Santa).
  • Masquerade: For various reasons, the sacred rule any acting Santa must follow is to not be seen. (Secret treaties, 1816 and the extremely high technology level the Elves enjoy are the closest explanation we get to the reasons behind this rule.) This brings the world to the brink of an alien invasion panic when Arthur and Grandsanta are seen.
  • Matrix Raining Code: Christmas themed symbols over the closing credits.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • "There's always time for a bow."
    • "I'll be the candle."
  • Mirror Character: Despite polar opposite ideals, Steve and Grandsanta are both prideful, militaristic, believe their achievements go unrecognized, and are nigh impossible to be reasoned with when they decide on something.
  • Mission Control: Steve's job is essentially this, as he and his team of elves make sure the gift-delivering operation on Christmas Eve runs smoothly for Malcolm and the elves accompanying him. However, it's made pretty clear that Steve and the elves are the ones doing all the real work and Malcolm has essentially become a figurehead. In the end, Steve still has this role as Chief Operating Officer while Arthur becomes the new Santa.
  • Mrs. Claus: Margaret Claus, who's definitely the side of the family that Steve got his uber-competence from, and apparently handles the political side of the Claus operation (if that Treaty with Greenland she has to negotiate is any indication). She apparently spends her downtime taking online classes on various skills, to the point where she can do most anything without trouble.
  • Must Have Caffeine: Steve drinks a lot of espresso, and even gets a chair with a dispenser after he becomes Chief Operating Officer.
  • Nice Guy: Arthur is good-natured, and does have the heart, spirit, and the effort to keep Christmas alive in everyone.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When Arthur and Steve finally get in touch, Arthur asks that his brother help them deliver Gwen's bike. The elves respond positively, calculating statistics that prove the mission is possible. But just when Steve is on the cusp of giving in, one of the elves declares that "Arthur and Grandsanta would be the heroes of the night!" Steve, being a "Well Done, Son" Guy, cannot abide sharing any glory, and demands that the sleigh team come home immediately.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Delivering toys with an army of elves armed with high tech and ninja stealth and reflexes. And that's just the first ten minutes.
  • No Antagonist: There is no physical antagonist or villain to the story. The plot is set in motion when a single child's gift is left undelivered by mistake. From then on it's the clash of egos between Steve, Grandsanta and, to a smaller extent, Malcolm that drive the conflict.
  • No Name Given: No one says the name of Grandsanta's old reindeer on screen, only referring to him as "old fellow" or similar. One screenplay identifies the reindeer as "Rudolph", but this name is never used in the actual film.
  • Oh, Crap!: Delivered by Peter. When Arthur asks Steve to help him deliver the present to Gwen, it looks as though Steve is going to agree to help. Peter holds out an espresso for Steve, just as a random elf shouts "Grandsanta and Arthur will be the heroes of the night, sir!" Knowing how Steve will respond, Peter instantly drops the espresso in horror.
  • Older Is Better: Grandsanta believes that the traditional delivery methods are better than the newfangled technology that Steve is now using and this pretty much constitutes one of the major conflicts of the film. Arthur doesn't mind the new technology but is very much attached to the traditional ideals of the Santa mystique: That somewhere in the world, there's a wonderful man who knows and dearly loves each and every child, wanting nothing more than for them to be happy.
  • Old Master: Despite his crotchety-ness and apparent senility, Grandsanta reveals himself to be this to an extent, calming eight reindeer who've never flown before with naught but a whistle and maneuvering the sleigh with great skill and dexterity. Makes sense, given that he had to fly it during some of the most turbulent times in human history.
  • Passing the Torch: The film ends as Malcom passes on the Santa title to Arthur.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Arthur, Grandsanta, Bryony and the old reindeer.
  • Red/Green Contrast: Being a Christmas film, there's naturally a generous swatch of these colours everywhere. But character-wise:
    • Arthur wears a green sweater, and is quite clumsy yet determined to deliver gifts from a missed letter. His brother Steve wears a red army-esque uniform and though he has acknowledgement issues even though he's admired, he still gets the North Pole up and running.
    • There's their father Malcolm, who is the current Santa Claus and is reluctant to give up his red coat which he had been donning for decades, and their mother Margaret, who is Mrs. Claus, wears a mint green dress and a dark green coat, and is the sensible one with Crazy-Prepared capabilities.
  • Running Gag:
    • Arthur's slippers.
    • Arthur leaving doors open, and being reprimanded with "It's the North Pole!"
  • Saving Christmas: On a small scale for most of the movie. Then Old Doom-laden Scottish Elf convinces the elves to start of an 1816-style North Pole shutdown and the stakes get higher...
    • The whole point of the film is that even one child's happy Christmas is worth fighting for.
    • Parodied when the military confuses Grandsanta's sled for a UFO and mobilizes to destroy it in an attempt to stop a Christmastime "Alien Invasion". They even call the trope by name once they succeed.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Christmas: The Board Game" is obviously based on Monopoly, even having similar pieces.
    • During the opening montage, two parents can be seen watching The Snowman.
  • Signs of Disrepair: A "Center for Self Help" sign in Toronto becomes "elf Help".
  • Subbing for Santa: What Arthur thinks he's doing. Until he realizes that Santa is whoever delivers the presents, not necessarily a specific person.
  • Tempting Fate: Steve saying Grand-Santa is "too old to be getting into trouble."
  • Time Zones Do Not Exist: Arthur and Grandsanta travel all round the world, and it's night everywhere. The writers considered using the different time zones as a plot point to add some jeopardy but decided it was too confusing for young viewers.
  • Trade Your Passion for Glory: Three generations of Clauses had forgotten that being Santa Claus is about bringing joy to children, more than satisfying their own egos. Grandsanta wants to prove to Steve that the old traditional way of delivering presents is superior, Malcolm still wants the children of the world to love him and is in denial that he's too old to keep being Santa, and Steve only sees children as statistics and isn't very good at dealing with them on a personal level.
  • Unconventional Food Usage: It's revealed that all the cookies Santa doesn't eat get converted to biofuel.
  • The Un-Favourite: It is implied Steve's need to be acknowledged by Malcolm is rooted in a belief that he's this to the children of the world.
    Malcolm: This is about that pool table, isn't it? I told you, you should have written to me.
    Steve: I was eight! You're my dad!
  • The V-J Day Kiss: Two elves are seen doing this stock kissing pose as everyone celebrates after the S-1 returns from the mission.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Arthur, at first.
    • Steve is this, such how he views Malcolm's attempts to deliver Gwen's present in this way.
      Steve: Forget about the 2 billion things I did right today. Let's focus on the one thing I didn't.
    • When his dad finally gives him recognition, he realizes he wanted that even more than being Santa.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Steve really lets Grandsanta have it for starting a global alien-invasion panic just to show his grandson how Christmas is really done.
      Steve: You know the picture they'll have tomorrow? You, led away in handcuffs! The Santa who was seen. By everyone on Earth. The Santa who ruined Christmas.
    • Margaret loses her patience and calls Malcolm and Steve out when they can't stop arguing long enough to set off to rescue the sleigh team.
      Margaret: Oh, for Goodness sake! Arthur and Grandsanta are out there, probably not wearing nearly enough layers, and you two are bickering over a big, red toy?!
  • Women Are Wiser:
    • Mrs. Santa aka Margaret is the only member of the Claus family that is not blinded by the pride or hero-worship the men suffer from.
    • Her obsession with pristine gift wrapping aside, Bryony the elf is the most level-headed member of the "Deliver Gwen's Present" sleigh team.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The sum of Grand Santa's speech to Arthur as they first pull out of the North Pole, as Arthur goggles at the sights from the soaring sled.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The Santa Claus term is established as being seven decades exactly. Grandsanta was Santa before his son, Malcolm, who by the beginning of the movie is on his 70th mission, however the former is stated to be 136. For both of them to have had 70 missions separately, Grandsanta would have to be at least 140, not including training years.
  • Wrong Turn at Albuquerque: Arthur puts Gwen's address in Bryony's GPS and arrive there, only to find that Santa already delivered a bike there. It turns out there is also a town named Trelew with a Mimosa Avenue in Mexico, and Arthur selected that one instead of the correct one in England. Later, Malcolm makes the exact same mistake.
  • You Are Not Ready: Steve himself admits he's not the one to be the next Santa at the end of the film and allows Arthur to succeed their father, having been impressed by his determination in getting Gwen's present delivered in a timely fashion and learned a lesson in humility in the process.
  • You Are Number 6: To Steve, the little girl who was overlooked is a multiple-digit number, illustrating that he views children as statistics rather than people. To Arthur, however, she's Gwen. It's indicative of their jobs; Steve is the one who utilizes technology to make the entire operation run efficiently, while Arthur actually answers the letters children write to Santa and thus engages with them on a personal level.
  • Youngest Child Wins: In the end, it's Arthur who becomes the new Santa Claus instead of his older brother Steve, though the epilogue reveals that Steve has become Chief Operating Officer and is happy with his job.