Klaus review: A modern Christmas classic
James R | On 15, Nov 2019
Director: Sergio Pablos
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, J.K. Simmons
Watch Klaus online in the UK: Netflix UK
An act of kindness always sparks another. That’s the moral at the heart of Klaus, Netflix’s new Christmas movie, one that’s simple and sweet enough to charm the socks off even the humbuggiest of viewers.
For all of Netflix’s disruptive modernity, Klaus is charming precisely because of how old-fashioned it is. Hand-drawn with beautiful use of colour and shadow, it’s an achingly elegant piece of animation, with a look that recalls The Emperor’s New Groove but with an atmospheric eye for its Arctic location. That would be Smeerensburg, the remote island where postmaster’s son Jesper (Schwartzman) is sent as punishment for being a spoilt brat.
Jesper is given an ultimatum: get 6,000 letters delivered through the post there and he can return to his posh, plush life of wealth and privilege. Fail, and he’s cut off from his inheritance. But upon arriving at the desolate village, he finds a community where the adults are all at war with each other, and where nobody needs to do something as courteous as send a handwritten message – how much one faction hates the other doesn’t need spelling out any further.
And so Jesper hits upon a scheme: every time one of the children sends a letter, give them a toy. These he procures from Klaus (Simmons), an old man in the woods who used to make toys but stopped years ago for reasons that become tragically clear. What follows is, of course, an origins story for old Saint Nick, but Klaus manages to deliver it in a way that feels fresh and unique, from children leaving behind cookies or Santa’s giving of coal to naughty kids to the flying sleigh that ferries him from house to house.
It’s a wonderfully conceived set-up, which finds room for bitter one-liners (delivered with a gravelly deadpan by J.K. Simmons and a sing-song sarcasm by Norm Macdonald’s local ferryman) and a non-stop slew of quickfire gags (delivered with delightful silliness by Schwartzman). Sergio Pablos, creator of Despicable Me, balances that light touch and gentle mythology with a genuine darkness – foreboding, smowy landscapes are the order of the day – and tapping into the kinds of rifts that divide modern society in a way that youngsters both notice and don’t quite understand.
The movie’s determination to prize innocence and sweetness above all is a wonderful antidote to that grim undercurrent – and also ensures that, while Rashida Jones’ schoolteacher, Alva, is a romantic interest for Jesper, that subplot is far from the focus for either him or her. The result is a gorgeously warm-hearted animation that finds fresh heart in familiar traditions, and finding time along the way to reach out to the indigenous Sami people and include them in the festivities. Unassuming, cute, poignant and funny, it’s a winning Christmas movie that is destined become a family favourite in the years to come. Introducing someone else to it, after all, would be an act of kindness – and one can’t give higher praise than that.
Klaus is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.