Thursday, December 5, 2019

Movie Review: Klaus

Klaus *** / ***** 
Directed by: Sergio Pablos.
Written by: Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney and Sergio Pablos.
Starring: Jason Schwartzman (Jesper), J.K. Simmons (Klaus), Rashida Jones (Alva), Joan Cusack (Mrs. Krum), Norm MacDonald (Mogens), Will Sasso (Mr. Ellingboe), Sergio Pablos (Pumpkin/Olaf), Neda Margrethe Laba (Margu).
You can tell that Klaus director Sergio Pablos spent much of the 1990s in various roles in Disney animation when watching the Netflix animated film Klaus. The film isn’t quite a carbon copy of the style of those classic Disney animated film – particularly from the ones later in the decade (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) – but is close enough to make you nostalgic for the time before Disney decided to do away with their traditional style altogether, and make all movies – under the Pixar banner or otherwise – with the computer animation style. The film looks great from beginning to end – and will delight parents and children looking for a new animated Christmas movie this year, instead of (or in our case, in addition to) watching the same ones you see year over year. It’s perhaps a little too goofy for its own good, a little too pat and predictable – especially since we know where the story is going from the first frames, and it takes a while to get there – but overall, it’s a delightful new Christmas movie for kids.
The film’s hero is Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), the spoiled son of a wealthy family, whose father is tired of him lounging around doing nothing. To teach him some responsibility – or maybe just to punish him – Jesper is sent to the island of Smreensenburg, and isolated community, full of people who hate each other, and told that he has to run the post office there for one year – and stamp 6,000 letters in that time. The problem is that no one on the island sends or receives letters of any kind. However, when Jesper finally meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a woodworker who lives in isolation even in a place known for living in isolation – he comes up with an idea. And hence, children start writing letters to Klaus for toys – and Klaus, and Jesper, start to deliver them.
So yes, this is another Santa Claus origin story – and while I will always be partial to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, this one works as well. The film is fun and goofy – with as much slapstick as an old Warner Brothers cartoon, but not so much that it overwhelms the earnest emotions on display from beginning to end. It’s hardly a Christmas movie if it doesn’t make you cry at some point – and as goofy as it is, the final moment in the film at least made me mist.
The plot is probably too busy – especially as it winds down, and the two families at the heart of the feuding are brought more into play, probably because the film felt you it needed a more action packed climax than it really did. To bring up Santa Claus is Coming to Town again, that TV movie worked just by bringing color back into the grey lives of the children – and while it had a villain, it didn’t have a lot of action (especially a moment that directly lifts from How the Grinch Stole Christmas). For me, the film works best when its goofy fun.
It saddens me more than a little that this is a film that went straight to Netflix – that Netflix had to salvage when no one else wanted to make it, despite Pablos’ background with Disney and others (he produced Despicable Me as well). It’s good news that Netflix takes a chance on these types of films – but bad that they need to, because everyone else is so risk averse that they don’t want to make an animated film unless it looks like all the other animated films. Klaus isn’t one of the very best animated films of the year – but it certainly is among the best looking – and certainly among the most distinctive looking. The world of animation would be richer if Hollywood studios realized there is more than one way these films can look. Klaus is a refreshing throwback in that – and a few other regards – which makes it worth seeing this Christmas.

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