I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and are excited for the new year.
As has become a custom for the end of the year, my December vacation block has been book-ended with a review or article covering some form of media regarding the holidays. Last year, it was an analysis of the Ranken-Bass Christmas specials and their shared connective universe. This year, I decided to go a little easy on myself and simply do a review of what I am sure will be a future Christmas classic.
The holidays are often inundated with new Christmas-themed movies, usually from the Hallmark channel or made in a similar vein. These films usually come and go with very little fanfare and the rise of streaming services over the last three years has only made this more prevalent. Most Christmas movies pass under the radar or are forgotten altogether, leaving me hungering for a new Christmas IP that would actually manage to stand alongside Christmas classics.
Luckily, today's article is on such a film. Released on Netflix in 2019, Klaus was an extraordinarily well-produced and enjoyed film, and I genuinely believe that it will quickly become a Christmas regular if people continue to watch year after year. It's still early, but I have little doubt in its future classic status.
My confidence is born of my general opinion of the film, which you can read down below.
- Directed by Sergio Pablos
- Produced by Netflix Animation
- Runtime: 97 Minutes
- Rating: PG
In Norway, sometime in the 19th century, Jesper Johanson is the spoiled and privileged son of the Royal Postmaster General. Desperate for his son to make something of himself, Jesper's father sends him to the worst performing branch in Norway, the distant and isolated town of Smeerensburg with a simple task. Deliver only 6000 letters in a year, with failure resulting in his disinheritance.
Banished to the frozen norths of Smeerenburg, Jesper learns that his job will be even more difficult that just the isolated location. The people of Smeerenburg are obsessed with feuds and all hate each other or in the case of the local schoolteacher, Alva, given up hope on the town's survival altogether. No letters are sent, and Jesper's efforts only make him more disliked by a community not interested in getting along and talking to each other.
As a last resort, Jesper makes an acquaintance with a lonely woodcutter named Klaus, who enjoys making toys but has no one to share them with. After a series of hilarious hijinks, Jesper devises a plan. The children of town will right a letter to the mysterious toymaker, give them to Jesper who will deliver them to him and then help deliver the toys. Along the way, Jesper begins to add little bits to the legend of the northern toymaker that sends the town of Smeerenburg into a strange transformation in order to "get on the nice list", though these efforts on despised by the two largest feuding families.
As Jesper's time in Smeerenburg is running out, will he be able to make a lasting impact on Smeerenburg and maybe even help a lonely woodcutter as well?
Klaus was one of those films that I saw a lot of people mentioning at the time of its release that I initially had little intention of actually watching. I think I have to actually thank the YouTube autoplay feature for introducing me to this film, as I happened to catch one of the scenes of Jesper interacting with Mogens (voiced by the late great Norm MacDonald) and was immediately drawn to the stunning animation style and wonderfully quirky dialogue and humor.
After watching the film, the animation truly is spectacular, managing to create a distinct visual identity from any other Christmas film that captures your imagination and immediately draws you into every moment of humor and drama. The film is equally capable of providing moments of levity and slapstick as well as moments of true pathos, leaving it among the most beautiful films that I have ever seen from a purely animation standpoint.
The music is the kind of soundtrack that is made to supplement the film, with only the song "Invisible" by Zara Larsson playing a major role during the Márgu gifting-giving sequence. But that song, man. Oh my god! I absolutely love that song and listen to it a lot around this season. In fact, I was listening to it while writing this review and it made me excited to see the film all over again.
Animation-wise, I think the three scenes that most stick out to me are the Sami gift-giving scene, Klaus' story about his wife, and the final sequence with Klaus. All three scenes are exceptionally subtle, allowing the visuals and a wonderfully charming musical score carry heavy amount of emotional weight. The Sami scene especially sticks with me and leaves me really feeling the warm fuzzies, as it is also forms the core of Jesper's emotional reformation. The fact that this film also utilizes the regional Sami language for one of its central characters of Márgu and we as an audience manage to connect so strongly to her speaks to a universality of this film that isn't often seen.
Speaking of, this film's cast does an absolutely spectacular job of portraying a group of, admittedly, mean-spirited people that somehow manages to still come off as likeable and charming. J.K. Simmons plays Klaus (our titular Santa Claus) and manages to come off as both the traditionally whimsical gift-giver of legend as well as a bitter, mourning widow with stunning levels of ease. He really does form the soul of this film, despite the film largely focusing on Jesper, played by Jason Schwartzman.
Initially, I thought that Jesper would be utterly frustrating as is to be expected of the spoiled pampered character in films like this, but Jason plays him so incredibly charming and frustrated that I can't help but root for him. Where he might've come off as whiny and annoying, his presence in Smeerenburg, the most unfriendly town in Norway, actually makes his struggle to get people to deliver letters a struggle not of his own making. Jesper actually tries to do his job in the beginning and had he been stationed anywhere but Smeerenburg, I think that he would've still learned the value of hardwork and actually accomplished his goal. This makes us root for him as they quickly show Jesper rise to the occasion, using his scheming and trickery to actually improve people's lives.
Because at its heart, this films "scheme" is essentially to trick the kids of the village into writing letters to a magical gift-giver "Klaus" who is the depressed woodcutter outside the village. So that Jesper can deliver them to Klaus who can then send the toys to the children. From there, the scheme expands to include other, really clever, aspects of the Santa Claus mythos (the naughty list is Jesper's way of getting the local bullies to get off his back) and getting them to write letters actually sends the kids back to the school in order to learn how to read and write, ironically restoring Jesper's love-interest's, the cynical Alva played by Rashida Jones, interest in teaching.
The story is simple and, admittedly has that annoying liar revealed plotline where Jesper explains why he is actually there and why he got into the letter-writing campaign initially but the "scheme" does so much good and so little acutal harm that its mostly an annoyance that creates a last minute drama that is resolved with a single conversation before the last action-sequence.
The film's resolution is, regardless of the actual strength of the storyline, actually quite a unique take on a Christmas. Its usual for Christmas films to usually resolve through goodwill and the magic of Christmas and whilst Klaus definitely resolves its issues with a surprising amount of goodwill and sudden acts of kindness, with a literal moment of love at first sight resolving our antagonists'; the film keeps its world exceptionally grounded. For most of the movie, the more magical elements of Santa (the naughty list, the coming down chimneys, the flying reindeer, etc.) are explained away through wacky slapstick or funny situations with Jesper. Towards the end, the evolution of Klaus into Santa is treated as something crossing between the magical and something almost divine. It's a tone that I've never really seen before but is so distinct that Klaus' ending continues to stick with me even days, weeks and years after watching it.
I called this film an up and coming classic and I truly stand-by-that. I don't watch a lot of television so I have no idea as to its replay status on things like the FreeForm 25 Days of Christmas or the like, but the film's charm, beautiful animation and music, hilariously cynical characters yet stunningly poignant goodwill and internalized mythos makes this a film with all the hallmarks that one would expect for the Christmas greats. It may take a few more years and some more replays but Klaus will absolutely stand among the greats. Of that, I have few doubts.
FINAL SCORE - 8.5/10
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