Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Sergio Pablos
Writers: Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney and Zach Lewis
Voice Stars: Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones
Special Guest Writer: Danielle Z Shojaie
Wanting to watch something to feel the spirit of Christmas is how I ended up watching “Klaus” (2019) the first time. It ended up being a film that we all loved and deemed eminently re-watchable. This film has all the makings of a new Christmas Classic to be enjoyed by the whole family. It steps away from the traditional tales of how the legend of Santa Claus came to be and creates an entirely new story that still manages to explain the toy-making, the sleigh, the reindeer, the naughty list, the red suit, and, of course, the timeless tradition of Letters to Santa. This film further subverts other Christmas Classics because the central character is not Santa Claus but the new local postman, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman).
The film follows Jesper, the spoiled son of the Postmaster General, who wants a life of leisure instead of training to become a postman. Schwartzman captures the character of Jesper with a similar panache to David Spade’s portrayal of Kuzco from “The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000), both voicing initially spoiled characters that we follow on their journeys of personal growth. Jesper is tasked with moving to Smeerensburg, establishing a post office on the remote island, and ensuring 6000 letters are sent before a year has passed or risk being cut off from his comfortable life.
Upon his arrival, Jesper finds the task to be more daunting than he initially thought as he discovers the feud between the Ellingboe and Krum families that has prevented them from needing any postal services. As he looks for anyone who may need to mail a letter, Jesper discovers the woodsman’s cabin and makes the trek. Accidentally leaving behind his first almost-letter leads to Jesper meeting the woodsman, Klaus (J.K. Simmons) and the delivery of the first toy to a Smeerensburg child. As change begins in Smeerensburg and within Jesper, he befriends the teacher, Alva (Rashida Jones), and grows his friendship with the stoic Klaus. Thus, a legend is made.
“This film has all the makings of a new Christmas Classic to be enjoyed by the whole family. It steps away from the traditional tales of how the legend of Santa Claus came to be and creates an entirely new story.”
“Klaus” is a uniquely beautiful animated film as it mixes hand-drawn images with modern animation techniques. Interestingly, the hand drawn images very obviously use multiple media from crayon drawings to intricate pencil work which one may guess could find disjointed but rather capture different settings and events within the story. Also, as this is a story of growth, not just for Jesper, but for Klaus, Alva, and the good people of Smeerensburg, the film uses specific color palettes to move the story forward, adding more color and warmth as the film goes on, layering the story with multiple ways to identify the changes happening.
As Sergio Pablos’ directorial debut, he can be proud to have made a film that people will continue to enjoy because of how it gives a new version of a story most probably thought couldn’t be newly retold, a story with nuance and emotion without being unduly saccharine as so many Christmas movies can be. Relying on known motifs with a twist for various montages and scenes, “Klaus” allows the audience to be in on the joke keeping older audiences engaged while children delight in a story of one of the world’s most famous legends.
“Klaus” is available on Netflix.