Directed by Sergio Pablos.
Starring Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, and Norm Macdonald.
When Jesper is deemed to be the postal academy’s worst employee, he’s sent to work in the abandoned post office on the mysterious and eerie, island-nation of Smeerensburg. Here, he meets the reclusive Klaus – a toy-maker living deep in the forest. Together, the two attempt to bring joy and change to the bitter residents of Smeerensburg.
On the whole, Christmas films can be predictable, but that’s no surprise as they tend to stick to the same traditions we ourselves stick to every year. Klaus breaks the mould, providing an alternative ‘Santa Claus’ origin story – except here, he’s just called Klaus (J. K. Simmons). Klaus expertly blends dark, morbid humour with wondrous festive cheer – an unusual but greatly successful feature of Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney’s script – making Klaus a film perfectly suited for the entire family. Director, Sergio Pablos, helms this jubilant piece of festive animation that touches on universal themes of kindness and togetherness without ever becoming clichéd. This might be Netflix’s first full-length animated feature, but Klaus puts up strong competition to all of the major animation studios.
It’s not until 70 minutes into Klaus‘ runtime that the word ‘Christmas’ is even uttered – it simply doesn’t exist in Smeerensburg – but this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Klaus feels distinctively festive despite the fact that lights, garlands and Christmas carols only make an appearance near the end of the film. Klaus takes the thematic elements of Christmas – spreading joy, bringing people together – and crafts them into Jesper’s (Jason Schwartzman) journey of self-discovery. The absence of Christmas’ material traditions helps Klaus stand out from other film’s in this genre. The town of Smeerensburg is quite the opposite of festive. It’s a town split into two constantly fighting factions. Having fun is a wrongdoing – and children are brought before councils for committing this sin. It provides for some dark, morbid humour that works so well. Klaus certainly isn’t as dark as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas but you can’t deny the two films share a strand of DNA. When Jesper first sees the physically imposing Klaus, he shouts in terror, “Don’t chop me up and scatter my parts in the woods” – an unexpected joke in a Christmas film but one that seems so at home in Klaus.
Smeerensburg may be home to some aggressive residents, but its style is fairly quant. It’s very reminiscent of Hogsmeade from the Harry Potter films but thanks to Klaus‘ unique animation style, the film manages to craft its own distinct aesthetic. Klaus doesn’t quite use 2D hand-drawn animation, but it doesn’t use contemporary CG animation either. It bridges the gap between the two which only furthers the film’s aesthetic appeal. The establishing shots of Smeerensburg demonstrate this best. The CG elements of the animation style help provide such depth whilst the 2D animation style provides a rustic, nostalgic charm. Pablos did work on several 90s Disney titles including Tarzan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules – and you can very much see how this passion for 2D animation informed Klaus‘ visual style. Another welcomed detail was the slow transformation of Klaus‘ colour tones. Jesper and Klaus’ warm, gold glow slowly spreads throughout the cold, blue landscape of Smeerensburg as the town gradually begins to change its ways.
Klaus could benefit from a slightly shorter second act. The story itself is wholly engaging but the change in pace between act two and three feels a little off balance. This is a minor fault and hardly detracts from what is a wonderful, festive tale. For a film that firmly establishes itself as a comedy, it’s quite surprising how poignant of an ending Klaus has. The ending is tonally very different from the rest of the film yet the transition into this feels so natural. It’s a testament to Klaus‘ great script that despite being a comedy, it can still create touching moments.
Klaus is a huge success for Netflix – bringing uniqueness to a genre that is founded on tradition. It is the perfect film to take audiences into the festive months. Klaus holds the power to reignite everybody’s Christmas spirit this year – and there’s no doubt that’s exactly what it will do.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★