Klaus (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A likable Santa Claus origin story

klaus05.jpgNetflix animation feature film “Klaus”, which was released on Netflix early in this November, is more entertaining than I expected. Although it is surely your average Christmas tale associated with the origin of Santa Claus, the film distinguishes itself to considerable degree via its own fresh, distinctive animation approach, and you will gladly go along with that even though you can clearly see through its story and characters right from the beginning.

The story begins with how its hero, a rich spoiled kid named Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), is sent to a remote island located somewhere in the Arctic region. While his father is the head of the Royal Postal Service of an unidentified Scandinavian nation, Jesper has no interest at all in learning anything at the Royal Postal Academy, so his father comes to choose a drastic measure for pushing Jesper a lot harder than before, and Jesper suddenly finds himself transferred to that Arctic island, named Smeerensburg, as its new postmaster, while also told that he will be cut off from the family once for all unless he posts 6,000 letters during his first year.

Right from his very first day on the island, Jesper comes to realize how gloomy his situation really is. Many residents of the island have clashed and fought a lot with each other due to a longtime feud between two big families in the island, so they are not particularly interested in posting letters or parcels to each other, and Jesper becomes quite depressed as it seems he will be stuck in the island for the rest of his life.

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And then there comes a small good opportunity to him on one day. After hearing about someone living alone in a nearby forest, Jesper decides to take a chance with that unknown figure. Although their first encounter is not very cordial to say the least, Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) turns out to be a gruff but kind-hearted old carpenter who made many different kinds of toys, and Jesper discerns a nice chance for himself when a child is delighted to receive one of those toys thanks to a letter inadvertently brought to Klaus. He tells many children of the town that they will get toys if they just send letters to Klaus, and, what do you know, he subsequently becomes quite busier than before with hundreds of letters to be handled by him.

As Jesper and Klaus busily work together, the film generates lots of small fun moments associated with those familiar aspects of Santa Claus. For example, there are several funny slapstick moments showing Jesper’s occupational hazards, and then we later get an amusing scene where Jesper falsely warns many children that Klaus always knows who is naughty or not. As a result, many of children in the town try to be good as much as they can, and this change consequently influences many of adults in the town, who gradually come to find their better sides as putting aside their old hate and hostility.

Meanwhile, Jesper gets closer to Alva (voiced by Rashida Jones), a jaded schoolteacher has mainly worked as a fishmonger due to the lack of students in her school. Although she has yearned for getting out of the island someday, she cannot help but feel brightened and excited as many kids willingly come to her school for learning how to write a letter to Klaus, and her classroom, which was initially filled with many smelly fishes, subsequently comes to look quite different as she puts some more effort on teaching these kids. At one point, she volunteers to be a translator for a young Sami girl who comes to Jesper for writing a letter to Klaus, and that leads to a genuinely touching moment which also solidifies Jesper’s relationship with Klaus.

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Of course, there are some mean people who are not so pleased with the changes brought into the island, and the film becomes more predictable than before during its third act, but director/co-producer/co-writer Sergio Pablos and his co-director Carlos Martínez López keep things rolling even during that part as steadily maintaining the sense of fun and excitement on the screen. Although the climactic action sequence feels rather obligatory, it is mostly handled well enough to engage us, and then the film smoothly delivers the following epilogue with some bittersweet poignancy.

In addition, I was quite impressed by the eclectic animation style of the film, which is the mix of hand-drawn animation and CGI lighting techniques. Posing itself somewhere between hand-drawn animation and digital animation, the overall result looks and feels unique to say the least, and those many striking visual moments in the film surely remind us of how hand-drawn animation can express more personality and imagination compared to digital animation.

The voice cast members of the film did a commendable job on the whole. While Jason Schwartzman is suitably cast as a childish but good-natured hero who comes to improve himself as well as others around him, J.K. Simmons complements Schwartzman well with his curt line delivery, the other voice cast members in the film including Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, and Norm Macdonald are also solid in their respective parts

In conclusion, “Klaus” is an ideal animation film for the upcoming Christmas season, and I enjoyed its good aspects even while being well aware of the predictable aspects of its story and characters. Yes, this is indeed a typical seasonal product, but it is packaged well with enough style and substance, so I will not grumble for now.

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