by Miguel E. Rodriguez
Directors: Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martínez López
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Norm MacDonald, Joan Cusack
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 94% Certified Fresh
PLOT: The origin story of a certain jolly fellow in a red suit is told with beautifully enhanced hand-drawn animation in a film that deserves to be ranked with the best holiday classics.
I was not prepared for this.
Netflix’s Klaus from 2019 is one of the most beautiful, magical, and relentlessly original holiday films I’ve ever seen. And heart-rending. There are emotional beats in Klaus that rival anything in Pixar’s catalog, from the opening sequence of Up to the finale of Inside Out.
Short review: Go. Watch it now. Why are you still reading this?
It starts an unspecified number of years ago somewhere in what appears to be Scandinavia, but it could be anywhere. Or nowhere. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is the ne’er-do-well son of the postmaster general, or something like that. Determined to make a man out of his son, Jesper’s father assigns him a task: start a post office in a remote northern village on a desolate island and generate 6,000 letters in a one-year period or get cut off from his family’s substantial wealth.
The visuals in this forbidding village could warm the surrealist cockles of Tim Burton’s heart. Rooftops aren’t so much pointed as sharpened. Wide-eyed children make snowmen that would give Calvin nightmares. A generations-long feud between two families on either side of town seems to be their only purpose for staying in town in the first place.
(So far, I’m thinking, okay, kinda weird, not sure where they’re going with this…is this scrawny dude gonna be Santa?)
One thing leads to another and Jesper travels to the other end of the island to visit the isolated house of someone known locally only as the woodsman. Here he discovers shelves and shelves of handmade toys, gathering dust. One of these toys finds its way into the hands of a child back in town who wrote a letter asking for a toy…
And here is where the story’s streak of inspired originality really took off. Virtually every aspect of the legendary Santa Claus is given its own special origin story, from the reindeer to the sleigh to the concept of a Naughty List, right down to getting coal in your stocking instead of a present.
Aha, you say, but this has already been done! I liked it better when it was called Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, on TV in 1970, with Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn!
True enough. But Klaus ups the ante by imagining this tale in a way I’ve never seen before. I’m finding it difficult to express my admiration without giving away key aspects of the film that make it such a delight. It’s all done so organically, so naturally, that something happens, and you think, “Well, of course they think reindeer can fly, after seeing that!” I found myself laughing out loud due to the sheer ingenuity on display.
I think it’s a great companion piece to that much-maligned holiday classic, The Polar Express. Both films approach the Santa legend from different angles, but neither one talks down to its intended audience. Here is a mystical figure, possessed of magical abilities beyond mortal man. Both films treat him with the kind of childlike reverence he deserves, and if he’s a little scary sometimes, well…he is always watching…
But none of that would be enough to achieve perfection on its own. What makes this movie perfect are the heart-rending emotional beats that come as complete shocks to the viewer. You may notice that I haven’t mentioned Mrs. Klaus, nor is she listed on IMDb. There’s a very good reason for that, but you won’t get it out of ME. You may also be asking yourself, well, if this hermit woodsman turns into Santa Claus, what’s the deal with the postman? Great question! Watch the movie and find out.
(Pay attention to the wind…that’s all I’ll say.)
These and other surprises pop up here and there, like searching through old clothes and finding folding money in the pockets. The finale might make you cry like a baby if you’re not careful. You’ve been warned.
Klaus is buried treasure, lost amid the hubbub of many other films from that year that have been forgotten. This one does not deserve to be forgotten. It belongs on any list of classic holiday films, old and new. If you’ve made it this far in the review, congratulations, thanks for reading, but now it’s time to GO WATCH THIS MOVIE.
Now available on Netflix.