In the middle of this unusual winter, I didn’t feel especially Christmas-sy. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone with Covid halting all moments of joy and happiness in its wake. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found that watching a single movie on Netflix made me remember the Christmas spirit. Of course, Klaus (2019) was that very movie.
The film follows Jesper Johansson (voiced by Jason Schwartzmen), an entitled man-child who is forced to become the postman of a small town called Smeerensburg. This island away from the mainland has a feud between two families that has kept the townsfolk cut-off from the outside world and hating… Well, anything happy. Jesper appears to be stuck here forever, until he meets a loner in the woods who appears to have a knack for making children’s toys and having a large white beard. Jesper is condemned to eek out a miserable penance until he encounters a broad chested, luxuriously bearded loner – Klaus (J.K. Simmons) – with a penchant for making toys.
Of course a story of redemption, gift-giving and flying sleighs follow, and damn it’s heart-warming. Writer-Director Sergio Pablos provides each sequence and scene with just the right amount of pacing to give a pretty clichéd storyline another crack of the whip, with montages of the titular character realising their flaws or the heartbreaking revelation of a lost love not coming off as tacky, but genuinely needed and persuasive enough that you follow these fully rounded characters along the way.
The 2D/3D animation is innovative, expressive and totally unique, with Sergio’s knowledge from Disney lending a well-versed hand in the proceedings. Using a combination of new lighting techniques and texturing this 2D animation creates the impressive animation style that has the same volume and details that 3D animation can possess. You truly feel engrossed in the world, with the hanging lights and creaking houses in the distance just as detailed as the characters in front of you.
Jason Schwartzmen leads throughout the movie as Jesper, with his cocky and ‘posh arsehole’ persona still not hiding the amount of charm in his performance. After having been thoroughly shown he is the worst, you end up watching a sequence of his first morning in his new Smeerensburg home, with a kitchen cupboard overflowing with snow, chickens resting in the mail sorting pigeon holes and a outdoor privy that sits on precarious wooden scaffolding with singular planks of rotting wood as a bridge and honestly, you still feel bad for him. J. K. Simmons as the titular Klaus is utterly captivating, his booming voice still allowing for the creaks and whimpers that comes from an insular and depressing past life, affected by death and lost hope (yet his HO HO HO still fills you with eggnog). Will Sasso and Joan Cusack play our story’s antagonist’s, the head of the two warring clans who are so cooped up with their heritage of hating one another that they will destroy any attempt at progress for the town, representing a great non-preachy example of the two party politics that has infected so much of society. On top of this, Joan Cusack is hilarious and genuinely threatening, with her sarcastic asides not affecting her speeches and ploys from being wonderfully devilish.
Our side characters are also great if somewhat underused; Rashida Jones plays Alva, the discontented school teacher turned fishmonger, with a similar aim to Jespers of getting off the island but as the story goes falls back in love with teaching and a certain Jesper. This, however, feels like one of the movie’s slip-ups, with Jesper and Alva’s romance really playing third fiddle to the relationship of Jesper and Klaus and the effect they have on the town. Alva is a well-rounded character and it would’ve been nice to see her decision making through perhaps a few more scenes rather than a montage or two, which felt very cast aside. Along with Alva there’s also Neda Margrethe Labba as Márgu, a young Sami girl who adorably waits for a chance to send a letter to Klaus and the charming but katagelastic ferryman Mogen, played by Norm Macdonald, unsurprisingly (he’s actually very funny throughout, no shade intended).
So with a well-paced story along with hilarious sight-gags, it’s understandable that Klaus was nominated for an Oscar and numerous other awards. Honestly, why this movie somehow slipped past me last year is criminal. Along with Arthur Christmas (2011), Klaus is to me as classic a christmas film as Home Alone (1990) or Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It has the heart and humour to cover any cracks that a nit-picker could find. Its message of unity through selfless good-deeds is universally necessary and damn if it can make you smile. It made me smile and this christmas that’s all that counts.