The usual disclaimer I provide up front when I review a Christmas movie: they often work for me. That doesn’t mean that I think every one I see is an instant classic, but it takes a lot for me to truly dislike one. Klaus (2019), though, rose quickly among my favorite Christmas films. I enjoyed the animation look and style, the voice performances, and the story told in this reimagining of the Santa Clause.
Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is a spoiled son of a wealthy postman mogul, and his father is tired of him just skating by, and sends him to start a new post office in Smeerensburg, a desolate place ruled by two feuding clans. He must post 6,000 letters in one year, or risk losing his inheritance and cushioned lifestyle. While attempting to figure out how to get this island which thrives on the rivalry and fighting to send letters, Jesper meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a towering woodsman with an apparent knack for toymaking and a big heart.
I think this movie may be made or broken on the viewer’s feelings towards Schwartzman and his character. Schwartzman has a type he brings to most roles of the entitled socialite who prefers to get through life talking his way into and out of most situations. He often puts people down in the most positive-sounding way, and uses sarcasm and snark like few others. I’m a huge fan, and I have seen most of his iconic performances including (but not limited to) his debut in Rushmore (1998), his villainous role in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2009), and in The Polka King (2017). He works for me, and his performance as Jesper is no different. Jesper starts out as an arrogant punk mooching off his father, but I really came to love him over the course of the film. He has a big heart that he appeared to have kept blocked off, for no apparent reason – but once it is opened up, the pure love that spills from it is so hopeful, and fits perfectly into this holiday film.
J.K. Simmons is another actor who I am frequently fond of, but I would say he has a more diverse range. Granted, he is often cast as a stern, angry man – but if you’ve seen him in the various roles he has taken over the years, you know he is capable of being almost anything. He is one of the few actors who can play a character who should not deserve our sympathy, yet his performance manages to give enough of a glimpse into humanity that you can’t help but hope he’ll come out of this horrible being we’ve seen. One would have to look no further than his role in HBO’s ”OZ”, as his character’s arc is one of the most surprising. As Klaus, he isn’t given much to say at the beginning of the film, but the moments he gets to speak, he is outstanding. One of my favorite moments is when he brings the iconic laugh of the Klaus character, and the interaction that Jesper has with it is just great.
In many ways, this movie functions like the Star Wars Prequels and the two “stand-alone” films (Solo and Rogue One). Most people coming to Klaus are familiar with some version of Santa Claus – and while the spelling is different, there are things we know have to happen. Where people argue that Solo fails to make the various expected moments feel organic and more than just fan service, Klaus succeeds with this. Each time something would happen that would check off one of the “things I know about Santa” boxes, I would look at my wife like a child so excited that he got an answer correct. It felt natural…or I was so wrapped up in the childlike wonder of the movie that I was just tricked – but either way, it left me feeling very satisfied by the movie‘s earned emotional climax. Yes, I did have tears in my eyes. No, I’m not ashamed.
If you’ve not heard of Klaus or have been hesitant to dive in, I’d say jump! I’ve missed several of the Netflix originals and exclusives this year, but I’m very happy I opted to watch Klaus. My one concern is the future of this film, as I own most Christmas movies that I love and would willingly add this one to my physical and digital collection…but can I? Will I ever be able to? That is the uncertainty of Netflix exclusives. Either way, Klaus earns the Must See rating.