Klaus (2019)

“No one seems to wonder how the whole thing got started in the first place.”

Tailor-made for busybody elves who absentmindedly throw on a new holiday film while wrapping presents, Netflix’s Klaus is both as beautiful looking as expensive wrapping paper and just as destined for the garbage bin. It’s flashy, lavish, painstakingly animated in ways too few movies of this kind ever are anymore. The picture deserves some credit in that regard. But it’s also – and all so – hollow on the inside, like an empty box that’s been wrapped and placed under the tree purely for show. Klaus is all decoration and no substance, and its gorgeous animation is undone by a truly pedantic story.

The film begins with an ultimatum of sorts. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman, woefully miscast as the lead vocal performer), is comfortable filling his days doing nothing, much to the dismay of his father who heads a successful postal company. Jesper lacks ambition, and so he’s chartered off to the Arctic town of Smeerensburg, told that he must invigorate their program by mailing out 6,000 separate pieces in a certain amount of time or be left to live in the tundra for the rest of his life. Upon his arrival, it’s clear he’s in for an uphill battle.

If there’s anything clever about Klaus, it’s that the film finds a way to be both a folk tale origin story of Christmas without completely ditching the modern materialistic aspect of the holiday. We understand where it’s coming from and where it’s likely to go. Along the way Jesper develops a crush on the local school teacher Alva (Rashida Jones), whose classroom has become a butcher shop because of the two-sided, dueling community of shut-ins who refuse any kind of interplay. The combative families and their love for hate is easily the least interesting part of the film. He also bumps into the titular behemoth Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a lonely and widowed woodsman with a home full of whittled toys he never got to give to children of his own. Maybe Jesper can fill Klaus’ void by helping him to give, all while convincing kids to mail countless letters for toys. It’s a win-win.

Looking through my notes after watching the film, all I kept seeing was, “beautiful but bland,” and that tidily sums up the movie in three short words. It’s really just a rather wasteful story, taking forty forgettable minutes to segue into an origin story for Santa Claus. And while the second half is far superior to the indifferent first section, it cannot overcome the poor character development or the lack of personality. Klaus looks human because of the astonishing hand drawn animation (reminding me of so many Disney classics), and I really wish the story had packed as much heart. What should have been a new holiday viewing tradition is destined to get lost in the streaming shuffle.

“It’s not a letter if it doesn’t have postage.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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