Principal Vocal Cast : Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Norm Macdonald, Neda Margrethe Labba, Sergio Pablos, Joan Cusack.
Synopsis: A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg’s new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions.
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film, 2019’s Christmas marvel Klaus is a heartwarming, instant holiday classic you can locate on Netflix this season. Utilising the visual look of traditional 2D animation, Klaus is both beautiful to look at and a beautiful film to watch, a genuinely moving story mixed with breathtaking visuals making me yearn for a time when the current glut of computer animated films were but a distant fantasy. I could wax poetic about Klaus’ charms for days, but then this decidedly shorter review will have to suffice.
Spoiled brat Jasper Johansson (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), son of the Royal Postmaster General, is sent to a far-flung Arctic town of Smeerensburg by his father to teach him a lesson, otherwise he’s cut off from the family fortune. The town has a centuries-old tradition of brutal feuds, primarily between two warring clans, the Krums – led by matriarch Tammy (Joan Cusack) – and the family of Mr Ellingboe (Will Sasso), with everyone, even the children, sworn enemies of the other. Jasper befriends a local woodsman, Klaus (JK Simmons), who he discovers makes toys for the local children, whilst nearby schoolteacher Alva (Rashida Jones) has been forced to make a living as a fishmonger in the decidedly angry climate. So when Jasper hatches a plan to generate an income from letters posted by children to ask Klaus for presents, the age-old legend of the jolly fat man in the red suit slowly comes to life.
I’m known by my family for being the biggest bah-humbug Christmas naysayer they know. I’m a cynic when it comes to the holiday season, and typically find watching “Christmas movies” a seasonal chore akin to having one’s foreskin torn off. I’ve softened in recent years, what with having wide-eyed children of my own, and the allure of the mystery of Santa remains the derivative parental prank I’ve enjoyed pulling year on year. I will happily acknowledge that Klaus, directed by longtime Spanish animation stalwart Sergio Pablos, melted my cold, Grinch-sized heart with its genuine story and rock-solid character arcs, sprinkling in the well worn trope mystique of everyone’s favourite chimney invader.
You all know the story; presents, elves, a sleigh, reindeer, the jolly “ho ho ho” echoing around the frozen North Pole tundra. The epochal nature of Santa Claus (dangit I nearly popped an extra “e” on the end there, thanks Disney!) as a figure of legend in many cultures continued to exude the magic and heart of humanity even when things seem darkest, and Klaus taps into that majesty and mystery ever so sublimely, you can’t help but be swept up in its icy charms. The central character is a hulking figure amidst the snow-swept landscapes offered by Pablos’ film, making everyone around him look positively… elf-like by comparison, whilst the story populates the fictional “history” of how the woodsman became the identifiable classic character we know to day with endearing, annoying and hilarious secondary inclusions. The story centres on Jasper, a man undergoing his own personal crisis when his father threatens to cut him off from the family fortune, no small thig really, but as you might expect his experiences with Klaus and romantic interest Alva, as well as the countless small children inhabiting the tiny villages around the region (proving there really isn’t much else to do up there in the North Pole but fuck, I guess) prove to be an effortlessly charming – if somewhat predictable – arc to follow as the story progresses.
The other central plot conceit, with the townsfolk involved in several hundred years of internalised conflict with each other, is one that seems familiar, almost Seussian to a degree, propelling the eventual relaxation of hostility through love and friendship towards its naturally bucolic conclusion – yes, everything turns out okay at the end, which isn’t a spoiler as much as a foregone conclusion in a Christmas movie – but it’s delivered in such a way there’s a warmth and generosity to things that feel like a throwing on a warm pair of slippers. Comfy. Pablos, who worked on Disney classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules and Tarzan, as well as 3D fare such as Despicable Me and Smallfoot – and more recently Ugly Dolls – returns audiences to the hand-drawn animated style without sacrificing the sense of assured complexity modern audiences might expect. Alongside the largely simplified storyline is a complexity of visual cues and animation style, a masterful use of traditional methodology alongside invisibly computer effects work. Yes, the animation and design in Klaus is astounding, a mix of old-school Don Bluth (think Anastasia’s angular imagery) and new-school crispness, a lovely pastiche of iconographic clichés remixed with a sweet, fairy-tale gleam that evokes both naturalism and fantasy.
However, it’s the film’s heart that sells itself; a lack of cynicism, an absence of smarm or juvenile wit prevail, juicing up the potentially saccharine, cloying nature of Santa Claus and his mission to bring joy to all with a moving, emotionally poignant story of love and acceptance whilst still bringing joy to all, even the joyless. Klaus carefully balances its message of love and forgiveness with the requirement of having moments of angst, pathos and dramatic urgency to generate the story’s momentum, delivering an all-round well-rounded fable that’s sure to capture your imagination as well as that of your children. To be honest, it’s that good, I can see this sliding into regular seasonal rotation as an annual classic at our house, I thought so highly of it. Do yourself a favour: while you’re setting out the milk and cookies for the fat man this year (or next, or whenever), give Klaus a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.