It’s almost that time of year again. Cold spells are getting longer, retail-store prices are climbing and Michael Bublé has risen from his 10-month slumber; yes, it’s “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” once again. And if you (like this critic) have lost track of the month—or even year—in a blur of lockdowns and travel bans, we here at the UK Film Review would like to remind you, with our review of last year’s animated Christmas masterpiece Klaus, that we are in fact nearing December 25th.
The film—co-directed by seasoned animator Sergio Pablos and relative newcomer Carlos Martínez López—follows the young heir to a postal delivery dynasty, Jesper (played by the forever-funny Jason Schwartzman) as he is cast out from the lap of luxury by his father, in the hopes that it will give his son some much-needed ambition in life. Tasked with revitalizing the postal service on a remote and frozen island, Jesper must oversee the postage of six thousand letters or face being cut off from his family fortune. Upon his arrival at the desolate coast, it becomes painfully clear to the newly minted postman that this task will not be nearly as easy as it sounds. With two feuding families in the small town, education and communication have been cast aside in favour of brawls, pranks and alarming amounts of property damage, removing (in the eyes of the island’s inhabitants) any need for a postal service whatsoever. However, with the help of a few strange allies, namely a secretive woodsman by the name of Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons), Jesper and his friends must fight to unite this hugely divided community before it brawls itself out of existence.
Klaus, in many ways, is a superhero origin story: audiences meet a talented loner (the woodsman) with a tragic past, he finds that his skills can be used for the good of all, and he must join a team of similar misfits to conquer the powers of “evil” and rediscover the hope that he once lost. Strip away the “broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly”, and you’ve essentially got the origin of the X-Men’s Wolverine. This, in its purest sense, is what differentiates Klaus from the rest of the plethora of other—overly merry—Christmas movies: this isn’t simply a children’s story, it’s a hero’s journey.
However, this hero’s journey wouldn’t be nearly as heroic without its unique and vibrant children’s-book style animation, which harkens back to hand drawn Saturday morning cartoons, but with all the technical flare and mastery which a studio the size of Netflix is capable of achieving. Even with such beautiful design, there is still a need for strong and creative direction, which is exactly what Pablos and López orchestrate through their use of traditional cinematic techniques. Rack focus and brilliantly stylized montage scenes lend Klaus the sheen of a live-action theatrical blockbuster, something which is rarely found to this degree in a completely animated piece.
The voice acting is understandably excellent considering the star-studded cast which includes the likes of Rashida Jones, Will Sasso and Joan Cusack, as well as the aforementioned Schwartzman and Simmons. Schwartzman in particular perfectly embodies the quirky pomposity of Jesper, channeling a comedic performance similar to David Spade in The Emperor’s New Groove.
Most importantly, this film remains a moving and effective—albeit thinly veiled—moral that despite our differences, we are all still human beings. Considering the young target age group for this film (despite its appeal to adults), the weight and importance of this message—especially when so much of our global community remains divided—cannot be over-stated. Another positive aspect of this movie’s identity is that—while certainly being a Christmas movie—Klaus approaches the story of Santa Claus not from any specific religious perspective, but with the shared perspective of humanity and community. This not only differentiates Klaus from the overwhelming number of other Father Christmas movies, it also allows for the animated film to remain accessible to all children.
As the character of Klaus says in the movie, “a true, selfless act always sparks another”. While this has certainly been a year in need of more than a little spark, let’s hope that this upcoming holiday season sees more than a little selflessness from all of us, while we struggle through these unusually hard times.