By Andrew Jenck
I mentioned in my Spider-Verse animation editorial of how I lament the loss of hand-drawn animation and without it the industry, while not ruined, has suffered a great loss from it. Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to find Netflix had released such a film directed by Sergio Pablos — the creator of Despicable Me. That being said, Klaus is a delightful Christmas movie that not only brings back the classic medium but also brings a well-paced story that produces natural emotions and feelings.
The story may not seem like much at first glance; borrowing pages from The Emperor’s New Groove, the film stars the son of the boss of the post office, Jason, who must create a flowing postal system on far away island known for its violence amongst its two factions: the blank and the blank. Jason discovers a way to achieve his goal by allying himself with a carpenter named Mr. Klaus, who has a stock full of toys he wishes to give to the children. Also, there is a school teacher saving up money to leave the island. You can guess where the story will go, but it is in the execution that brings it home.
Unlike other stories of this type, the film actually hones on the attention to detail and allows the scenes to play out more subtlety. Jason starts out the film as highly unlikeable, especially for a children’s movie, but he’s still appropriately punished and humorous enough without it feeling like overkill. Klaus, is also rather hapless and has isolated himself with everyone else. The island of Smearsburg feels like a character unto itself with its atmosphere and designs telling just how much of a lost cause this town appears to be. Just short sequences can demonstrate the residents’ lives and how they interact with one another.
Character interaction is also a strong suit of this film. We see how Jason’s and Klaus’ actions effect the town through sequences that are breezy but effective. Jason and Klaus have natural chemistry where they begin to open up to one another gradually and see the joy their work brings to the town. All of this is accomplished through a more steady pace and facial animation. Klaus spends a good portion of the movie nearly silent, but whenever he does talk, it is by J. K. Simmons who brilliantly strikes the more serious and weary but tender-hearted Santa the film aims for.
However, the greatest strength of Klaus is its message of just how much selflessness can go. They do spell it out a bit, but it is the lengths the film goes to that makes it special. Every character has his or her selfish gain at one point: continuing a petty feud, abandoning the town for somewhere else, or trying to get rid of the past. There are payoffs for many site-gags and minor characters that show just how much thought went into the world-building in how a little kindness can go a long way. In short, Klaus is a heartwarming film perfect for the Season of Giving. Put it on and it may just make the family calm down after lengthy political conversations.