The Fifth Day of Christmas: Klaus
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Joyous. That is the adjective which best describes Klaus (Sergio Pablos, 2019), a rare example of a Christmas film that has been to the Oscars, having narrowly lost out to Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley, 2019) in the Best Animated Feature category at the beginning of this year. Pablos’s film is a reimagining of Santa Claus that, unlike yesterday’s movie Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2005), hits all the right notes.
The film’s opening act is its weakest, but does much of the hard work in setting up the fictional world, and puts in place the magical events which are to follow. Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) is the stereotypical spoiled brat, living a life of luxury off his father’s back, and soundly rejecting any attempts made to get him to earn his keep or engage in activities that broaden his horizons beyond the comfort of lazing around and being waited on hand and foot by his personal butler. As a last ditch attempt to save his son from himself, Jesper’s father sends him away to be the postman for the isolated town of Smeerensburg in the frozen Northern wastelands, knowing that this is a test that will make or break his son. It is a well-worn scenario, and it is set in the sort of Scandanavian-tinted fantasy land that Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013) has made so popular. So far, so predictable, right? But as I say, this establishment of character and world isn’t the main attraction here as it is in so many other animated movies; it simply paves the way for what is to come.
Klaus really starts to come into its own with the introduction of the titular character (voiced by the ever-brilliant J.K Simmons), and the way the legend of Santa, who doesn’t exist within the world at the beginning of the movie, but very much does by the end, is reconsidered. It is reconstructed, piece by piece, within the lore of Smeerensburg until we all, both audience and character, discover that Christmas magic is, in fact, real. It is quite the revelation, and one that gradually dawns on you in the film’s second half as you realise that Christmas magic is in the joy of coming together despite our differences and doing good deeds for strangers and even enemies. This is all helped out by the increasingly-pervasive mechanism of cute animated kids, of course, and you know you are being manipulated by this, and the swelling music, even as you lose yourself in the wonder of the movie. For kids really are cute, even in real life, and you just know that the delighted and awe-struck reactions they have as unexpected presents appear in their stockings are just as genuine as they would be in real life. It makes the second half of Klaus incredibly moving, the sheer joy of the whole affair alongside a truly wonderful message: that one good deed begets another, and that kindness can bring the world together. It is such a tonic to the divisive and angry political times we seem to be forever living in, and honestly makes you believe in the magic of Christmas and goodwill as though you were an innocent child again. Indeed, in the film’s final moments, as everyone has reunited and reconciled with their families and Jesper, a transformed character, stays up all night on Christmas Eve awaiting the arrival of his friend Santa Claus, it becomes obvious that, better than any other movie I have ever seen, Klaus epitomises the Christmas values we have come to cherish.
Netflix and animation are two cinematic topics that deeply fascinate me in the way they are innovating and treading new ground in the world of film, and, although they are both perhaps worthy of greater discussion at another time, it is important to recognise how they both contribute to the success of Klaus. The freedom afforded by Netflix to its filmmakers allows the likes of Pablos (who before now has been chiefly a writer and animation designer on films such as Despicable Me [Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010] and its sequels) to spread his creative wings and produce something more personal and original. Furthermore, the simplistic yet unique animation style lends Klaus its own aesthetic and marks it out from the more established offerings of Disney and other powerhouse animation studios. Netflix is already shaking live-action cinema up with its vertically integrated model and creative licenses. If it continues to produce films of the quality of Klaus, it will soon do the same in the world of animation.
At time of writing, Klaus is available to watch on Netflix.