Klaus

Christmas movies are unapologetically not my jam. I find even some of the hallmarks (no pun intended) incredibly hard to watch uncut, much less when I’m forced to sit through an extra hour of commercials. I don’t like to think of myself as a scrooge, but The Santa Clause, A Christmas Story and other films of that nature just aren’t endearing to me in any way. I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas just as much as the next guy, but seasonal films I thoroughly enjoy are few and far between.

That introduction aside, we now have Klaus, the Netflix original looking to clock in early to the Christmas movie season. This is no bum job either, with director Sergio Pablos having been in the industry since the Disney Renaissance era, credited for work on films like Hercules and Tarzan. He also conceived what would eventually become the Despicable Me trilogy before making his directorial debut with Klaus.

Klaus follows a young man named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) who is sent to a small island, Smeerensburg, by his rich father in order to teach him a lesson. Jesper is a rich brat whose father made his living in the postal business, and his father orders him to establish a postal service on the island. If Jesper can’t post 6,000 letters in a year’s time, he’s cut off from the family’s money. Once Jesper arrives in Smeerensburg, he finds that the island is dominated by two feuding families, the children don’t know how to write, and there’s a reclusive carpenter named Klaus (J. K. Simmons) attempting to keep to himself. Once meeting Klaus and a woman named Alva (Rashida Jones), who wishes to be a teacher, Jesper devises a plan to create a myth around Klaus as a toymaker and inspire the children to write letters to him.

To get the obvious statements out of the way, the animation and art style here is incredible. Pablos clearly had a storybook aesthetic in mind for this film, and everything looks wonderful. Character designs are all slightly exaggerated, giving every character personality without being too absurd. The way the film uses things like torches, snow and fog to make the world feel more lively is also immaculate. In particular, one plotline involves Alva converting her butcher shop into a classroom for the children of Smeerensburg, and the use of contrasting lighting and color palettes help bring joy at the arc’s completion where it could have felt unearned had everything just been well lit and unimaginatively put together.

Klaus also has a lot of creative ways to get around the typical Christmas movie trappings. Since it revolves around Jesper attempting to turn Klaus into a figure of mystery, a lot of the conventions of Santa Claus are introduced in more creative ways. For example, Klaus works as a woodsman by day and can only deliver the toys at night. This with a few other details and a compelling, if simplistic, motivation for Klaus, finally create a Santa character that feels relatable. You understand that he wants to do something right to make change, instead of being arbitrarily motivated by tradition like other film portrayals of the character.

Despite a lot of creativity visually and with the treatment of the titular character, Klaus is no perfect sleigh ride. The feuding families storyline isn’t as well explored as it could be, with them instead becoming the villains of the film, going against the positive change that Jester and Klaus are attempting to bring. There’s also a strange subplot involving a small community of Sámi people that don’t really have anything to do with the story, but it does add a couple of colorful characters to the mix.

The Christmas movie season is already upon us in full force, and Klaus is a good one to add to the pile. I worry that it’ll soon be forgotten, however. Releasing the same day as Earthquake Bird, which is arguably geared more towards the people that pay for and watch Netflix, and not being as heavily marketed as some of their other originals (Marriage Story and The Irishman seem to be eating up all of the budget for that) might mean this gets stuck in the back of Netflix’s catalog for the year. Hopefully Klaus will find itself an audience, because I did enjoy it quite a bit.

B-

B- Review

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