Netflix keeps on making reasons for me to firmly stick by it, amid the ever-growing competitive streaming scene, the biggest of which is that they keep funding good original projects that takes risks, and are just plain great.
Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López’s “Klaus” might be the finest thing Netflix has released this year, and should be a shoe-in for Best Animated Feature at The Oscars.
It’s that good.
I liked this movie more than “Toy Story 4.” This is a film that will bring you to tears about Santa Claus — in November.
“Klaus” famously went through development hell, as studio after studio passed on it. The film is a passion project for Pablos, a 2-D animator of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Treasure Planet” fame who transitioned to CG pictures such as “Despicable Me” and “Rio.” Surprisingly, rather than a Frankenstein monster of different development periods and creatives, “Klaus” comes off as a concise, perfectly-crafted narrative directed by someone who is at the top of his game.
It’s easily the prettiest animated film released this year, making me wish I had the chance to catch it in theaters. The film follows postman Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), who is banished to the secluded island of Smeerensburg by his father, the Postmaster General, to set up a new post office, and make something of himself. Once there, he finds the island crippled in poverty and at war with itself, as the place is ruled by two competing families that hate each other: The Ellingboes and Krums.
As such, he finds that the townspeople have little use for mail, preferring to spend all their time engaging in barbarity. However, that all changes when Jesper accidentally delivers a piece of mail from a child to the secluded woodsman, Mr. Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Klaus is an old craftsman skilled at making toys, and the encounter soon leads to a partnership in which Jesper encourages the town’s children to write letters to Mr. Klaus in exchange for toys.
Along the way, they accidentally create the myths of Santa Claus we all know and love, and Klaus and Jesper form a genuine bond the film shows more often than it tells. It is notable that, while Simmons was brought on to play Klaus, he doesn’t speak for most of the film, but when he does, it is impactful. The film’s overall theme is based on the notion that one act of kindness sparks another, as Klaus and Jesper eventually change the townspeople from bitter, resentful, hateful and violent individuals into those willing to help their neighbors out and love one another.
Perhaps the character that had the biggest impact from them is the town’s school teacher, Alva (Rashida Jones), who previously languished in the town for five years, teaching no one. When Jesper arrived, the townspeople did not send their kids to school for fear that they would mingle with the children of their enemies, and as such, the school had been converted into a fish shop, as she was worn out and was saving up money to move somewhere else and start fresh. Throughout the film, Klaus and Jesper make Smeerenburg a place worth staying, portraying strong themes that home is what you make of it.
Jesper goes through a similar arc, as he first sees the town as hell, initially given a quota of 6,000 letters he needs to deliver in a year to leave, but finds once the work is done, he doesn’t want to. He evolves from a spoiled rich kid similar to Kuzco in “The Emperor’s New Groove” to someone that is genuinely hard working and altruistic.
Klaus has perhaps the most notable arc, as he is essentially a guy who lost everything he cared about in life, and was living a frozen existence, doing the same few things every day, while time slipped by. Jesper helps give him purpose and love people again, as he finds the love of the whole town and region by giving. Klaus teaches the audience that it’s never too late to find happiness, even if it’s not in the way you expect it.
Klaus is also just a regular guy, no fantastical powers, or anything. He’s wrong sometimes, and he’s just as fallible as any other character in the film. Pablos and López set out to tell a story about the guy who inspired the myth of Santa Claus and eventually became him, and as such, our titular character has dimensions and depth lacking in nearly every other iteration of the character.
There’s not much I would change about this film. Some of the voice acting doesn’t seem to match up with the character designs (i.e. Mrs. Krum looks like an elderly woman, but is voiced by middle-aged Joan Cusack), but the film is so well-crafted, that stuff is trivial at best. It’s more of a nitpick than an actual criticism.
“Klaus” is a creative film made by one of animation’s most imaginative minds, allowed to be executed to the letter of his vision. It’s a movie that will make you cry about Santa Claus.
I might regret this later, but I see no reason not to award it my first perfect score. I hope to see this film at the Oscars.
“Klaus” gets a 10/10