The stockpile of films that warrant the distinction of “Holiday Classic” is a fairly stagnant list. Occasionally, we get a contemporary film worthy of being screened alongside It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Polar Express and Elf are two more recent films that warrant consideration, but it’s been over a decade even for those films. Then, of course, there is the counter-programming of Christmas movies that are either irreverently Christmas movies or barely Christmas movies– Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3 (apparently), and Bad Santa.
Every once in a while, though, a new movie sneaks into the cultural consciousness that catches us by surprise and demands to be a part of the annual holiday classic conversation. Netflix has given us one of these movies this year in the Sergio Pablos-directed Klaus.
Klaus offers a re-imagining of the Santa Claus origin story. The film tells the story of Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a privileged young man on the verge of flunking out of postmaster school. Jesper’s father is disappointed in his son. The postal service is the family business, after all. So, Jesper is forced to open a post office in the isolated island village of Smeerensberg. If Jesper fails to stamp 6,000 letters in the next year, his father will cut him off.
The challenge here is that Smeerensberg doesn’t really need or want a postman. The village is preoccupied in a Hatfields versus McCoys-type feud between the two families in town–the Krums and the Ellingboes.
Jesper is frustrated with the lack of letter movement in the town, and he is frightened at the violence. On the verge of giving up, he meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), an old woodsman that lives an isolated life in the mountains far from the violence of Smeerensberg. Klaus has a workshop filled with toys. Jesper discovers that Klaus loves to deliver the toys to children in town, so Jesper launches a plan: convince the children to write letters to Klaus asking for toys so he can stamp his 6,000 letters.
What follows is a magical origin story that offers an interesting and fantastical explanation for the Santa Claus myth. The movie has an absurd amount of heart, and its premise is expertly executed.
The real MVP of the film is the animation. We are living in something of a golden age of interesting animated aesthetics. Last year’s Into the Spider-Verse provided an amazing template for interesting animation, and Klaus follows suit. Don’t expect the same razzle-dazzle, but the animation style here is completely fitting of this story, and it looks like nothing I’ve ever watched before. There is something warm and glowy about it that contributes in a major way to the magic of the film.
As important as the animation is here, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent voice cast. JK Simmons lends his growl to Klaus, and Jason Schwartzman vocalizes the anxiety of the fish-out-of-water that is Jesper in such a human and realistic way. The cast is rounded out by Rashida Jones (Alva), Norm MacDonald (Mogens), Joan Kusack (Mrs. Krum), Will Sasso (Mr. Ellingboe), and a full ensemble of other talented voice performers.
Once you get into the story, there are some fairly predictable turns, but the heart at the center of the movie overrules any of those critiques. This is a movie for the whole family, and you could do worse with your weekend-after-Thanksgiving festivities than gather around the Stream Tube and watch this one. Keep the tissues close, though. This one sneaks up on ya.
Plotaholics Rating: 1 shot
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