Nowadays, most animated movies have gone from hand-drawn to computer-generated animation. Just this year alone, Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, The LEGO Movie 2, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and more have dominated the box office. Animator Sergio Pablos, who worked on films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan, wanted a return to traditional animation. Pablos opened up his own studio (SPA Studios) and directed not only his first movie but also Netflix’s first original animated movie with Klaus.
The film centers around Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), the spoiled son of a rich postal academy head. His father makes him a postman at Smeerenburg, a town that’s divided by hate and anger. He’s given the task to mail 6,000 letters in a year or else he’s cut off from the family. Jesper meets Klaus (JK Simmons), a woodsman that crafts toys, and through a misunderstanding, they deliver a toy to a kid who wrote Jesper a letter. The myth spreads as Jesper and Klaus deliver more toys and the legend of Santa emerges.
The animators did such an amazing job as Klaus is absolutely stunning. You could pause each frame, and that shot could be its own painting in a gallery. The lighting gives the movie a storybook feel, and the art style has a great balance of grounded and exaggerated design. The backgrounds feel so real that you can practically touch them, especially for the winter sky. Everyone is so expressive as the character design gets to stand out. Also, anytime we see a sunrise or sunset in the film, it’s hard not to be in awe — you just want to bathe in that warm light as you soak in all of the beauty. For a story that takes place on a snowy cold island, we get so much warmth in the animation.
Even though Santa Claus is a legendary figure, a lot of stories stick to the basics of the character. Klaus offers a different take as they give Santa a backstory. Surprisingly, that’s actually unique as not a lot of tales get to explore that angle despite the character’s long history in media. It’s more of a tragic tale, but the movie doesn’t get too heavy with it.
The first time we get to meet Klaus actually plays more like a scene from a horror movie than a Christmas movie: When Jesper stumbles into his cabin with toys hanging from the ceiling as Klaus appears behind him with an axe in his hand. It’s also a great move by making Santa more of an introvert. Usually, he’s portrayed as a very jolly extroverted person. This take shows a man of few words and prefers to stay in his cabin because of his past. Yet, he still has such a big heart and loves to see kids happy.
A large part of why the story works is due to Jesper. Schwartzman does an excellent job of balancing his arrogance while also being this dweeb, so you’re not turned off by him. His partnership with Klaus is one of the emotional highlights as they get to bond throughout the movie. It’s a clever turn that Jesper inspires some of the Santa tropes, like making sure the kids are well behaved, and putting coal in their stockings. The partnership between Klaus and Jesper is the emotional highlight as you can feel their connection turn into friendship.
The message for this movie is such a vital one – a true act of kindness inspires another. This lesson is so important right now in the world, especially for kids. It’s a clever thing that the kids in Smeerenburg aren’t taught that, but instead gradually begin to understand. The film suggests that the adults in the town can’t come together, but the kids can overcome hate if they work together.
Klaus has this timeless nature to it. The appealing animation is a sight to behold as it showcases that hand-drawn animation can still be relevant for audiences today. It also has probably one of my favorite Santas; Klaus, with his introverted nature and big heart, help him stand out from the rest. At this point, you need to put Klaus in your Netflix queue for the holiday season.
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With stunning visuals, a heartwarming story, and one of the best Santas of all time, Klaus is destined to be a new holiday classic
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