Klaus - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Christmas time has come, which means every company and their mothers, are ready to capitalise on the festive season, and Netflix is no exception. And nor is Netflix’s mother, whomever that may be.
Every year Netflix has turned out some real shockers, and I’m sure some good ones too...but I haven’t seen them so “some real shockers” it is. For now. Generally rushed through production to make a quick buck, even cinematic releases don’t generally try to be too good (just play Wham Rap!, it’s all I’m asking for). So when a uniquely animated Netflix original dropped, I genuinely didn’t know what to make of it. Animation takes time to get right, and judging from the trailer, Klaus was beautiful. So, what the hell do they think they’re up to?
Being beautiful, that’s what they’re up to! This animation is gorgeous. It seems like everyone except Disney, who originally pioneered this animation style in the 2012 short, Paperman, has given a hearty swing at combining CGI with original cel shaded animation. Just last year, Sony released Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, which uses CGI models with painted 2D animation and rendered lighting to reflect comic book style. And now we have Klaus, which uses the opposite technique, of being traditionally animated, and then using volumetric lighting, shading and texture. And boy, does it look amazing. This combination of old and new actually ties into the theme. This level of technical depth is even rarer for a Netflix original.
The performances are all fantastic, though with Jason Schwartzman playing the lead, I couldn’t get Jonathan Ames from Bored to Death out of my head, (and now I'm worried that the love interest may secretly be his sister and now I've gone down a rabbit hole). Rashida Jones and Norm MacDonald are both fantastic as the supporting cast, and who else but JK Simmons should play Klaus himself? Even the child performers sound genuine! I never thought I would ever write these next words down, but honestly, I feel like Joan Cusack was the weakest link in casting? I don’t think it is her performance per se, but more so her character design not exactly matching her Joan Cusack-ness. At times it works, and then Joan Cusack is Joan Cusack so hard, I can’t imagine her as anything but Joan Cusack. But let it be known, there ain’t no such thing as too much Joan Cusack.
The real story here is why this film wasn’t made sooner. Reports say that writer/director Sergio Pablos had been shopping the idea around since 2015, only to be knocked back because it was too “risqué”. I don’t get it. This isn’t a bad thing, but the story is just very basic. Some might say classic. I might say classic, even.
It’s a classic story; the story behind the legend of Santa Claus himself. Not a mythical being, just an old toymaker who decides to help a young and obnoxiously privileged postman give out his old stash of toys. Granted, the postman has anything but noble intentions to begin with; being exiled to a town in the middle of a civil war, he can only go home after delivering 6,000 letters…which is impossible when the only thing the townsfolk give each other are punches. It’s honestly a hilariously convoluted plan, and spoiler alert, he becomes a better person after tricking everyone to be better people himself. It’s what you’d expect. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it’s heart-warming and fun, if not a bit ridiculous.
There are some pretty fun side characters that all grow from Jesper’s actions; Rashida Jones plays the only other character who’s not native to this town, and who eventually becomes the love interest. Thankfully, the love interest is so much of a side thing compared to her actual arc, which is just satisfying to see. You wouldn’t think that’s hard, but so many other animated films don’t even bother.
This is a Christmas movie. Where have I heard that before?
Once again, nothing really new here. Character starts off selfish, learns the true meaning of Christmas, happy days. What is new, as I hinted at earlier, is how the technical aspects of the film reflect the themes it explores. This is actually something I read in a different review and thought it was super w#nky, but hey, after watching the movie I totally understand and I decided that I also get the opportunity to be the w#nky one.
This film speaks volumes about tradition, and how sometimes you don’t owe it to your ancestors to keep up traditions. Sometimes traditions are stupid - even toxic to a community - and it’s up to us to grow and change those traditions, or maybe even create new ones. It’s this mix of traditional and new, and how it’s reflected in the animation, that shows just how much thought and effort was put into this film.
Or at the very least that’s what I think the other reviewer was talking about...I just want to sound smart.
I am really grateful that I got to watch this instead of Let It Snow. Although I’m sure Let It Snow is fun in its own way, but Klaus is a genuinely fun and engaging Christmas film. The humour is on point; it's a great script and has fantastic visual gags. With an entire town at war with itself, they find loads of creative and silly reasons to have the residents attack each other. And then, once the Christmas spirit finally kicks in, the way the nice stuff ties in with the bad stuff is hilarious. Since watching the film, I never want to receive a pie in any way other than aggressively.
It’s an incredibly sweet film with loads of moments that I like to call “lean back” moments; where I have to lean back in my chair so my wife can’t see me crying. It’s hard to imagine a Netflix original could be considered a modern classic after seeing two Christmas Prince films, but Klaus really puts a great argument forward. It’s blend of animation styles makes it simultaneously timeless and modern. This also goes for the comedy; there are no strenuous pop culture references that date the film. It’s just a Christmas classic that I can’t wait to watch again next Christmas.