Klaus: An Unconventional Christmas Classic
By: Sumana Syed
My friends and I were scrolling through Netflix at a sleepover, trying to find something new and interesting to watch. With one of us being an aspiring animator and the rest being animation enthusiasts, we decided to watch Klaus (2019). The animation style was enough to hook us in, but the heartwarming narrative and enjoyable characters are what ultimately made our viewing experience worth the watch.
Our story begins at a postal academy, where Jesper Johansson (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is studying to become a postman. However, he lazes around and underperforms, seeing as he’s the Postmaster General’s son, he can get by in the academy without doing much. That doesn’t seem to work, though, since his father decides to punish him for taking school lightly, by sending him to a distant island town — Smeerensburg — where he must post at least six thousand letters in a year. When he (reluctantly) reaches the small town, he discovers that there’s an ongoing feud between two families, the children don’t go to school and the teacher Alva (Rashida Jones) is now a fishmonger, and that his job is definitely not going to be easy.
Soon we’re introduced to Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a reclusive toymaker who hides a heart of gold under his tall and burly stature. When Klaus sees a drawing made by a sad child in Smeerensburg, he confronts Jesper, forcing him to take him to the child’s house and deliver a toy. Soon, word got around about how sending a letter to the mysterious Klaus guarantees a new toy, which gives Jesper the idea of how he can post six thousand letters in a year.
As the story progresses, we see Jesper go from being a selfish, entitled rich kid to a man with a mission: to simply deliver a toy to make a child happy. In a way, his character arc reminds me of Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove, except Jesper didn’t have to turn into a llama to learn his lesson. Also, if it isn’t obvious enough from the title of the film, we also follow a reimagining of the Santa Claus legend we know today — from the toymaking, to his “flying reindeer”, to even his boisterous chuckle. There’s a particularly heartwarming scene in the film where Klaus and Jesper work together to create a sled for a local Saami girl, Márgu (Neda Margrethe Labba), and in return for making her happy, her parents and other Saami people offer to help Klaus make toys — which is how we get “Santa’s elves.”
But with an animated film like this, we can’t not talk about the animation. Well, to start off, it’s absolutely beautiful. The director’s, Sergio Pablos, notable past works include many Disney Renaissance films, such as Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Tarzan. With that kind of experience, the art gives you a feeling of nostalgia while also delivering something innovative. The character designs and backgrounds look like they came straight out of a children’s book, mixing traditional techniques with modern, creating an aesthetic that ties the plot and visual narratives together perfectly. The color palettes are subtle and not too brash, giving the animation a two-dimensional appearance whilst also being considered three-dimensional.
This film is like finding a rare gem in a haystack, and thankfully many have taken notice. I hope to see more films like Klaus in the future, both in its innovative animation and emotionally rewarding narrative.