In a climate where most holiday stories have already been told and retold, Klaus, from Sergio Pablos (Despicable Me), stands out nicely as a unique and sweet original piece of Christmastime animation. For those looking for something new to show their kids this season, or just enjoy children-free even, it’s a stylish and darkly humored take on Santa lore.Featuring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Joan Cusack, Klaus dabbles in a handful of family film cliches, but they’re all mixed up inside an original fable involving a rich, spoiled postal academy student named Jesper (Schwartzman) getting banished to the distant Nordic town of Smeerenburg where his only way out is to get the townsfolk to send six thousand letters in a year’s time.
Old-timey Smeerenburg, however, is a forlorn frozen village that thrives on the hate between two warring clans – the Krums and the Ellingboes. All the dreary denizens do is viciously prank each other, as it’s tradition to lash out at one’s neighbor. Jesper, who’s a huge pill in his own right, must now trick people into writing, and mailing, letters in order to win his freedom. It’s an interesting set-up – but not as crazy as where it all leads.
Jesper discovers a large, bearded toymaker in the woods, the titular Klaus (Simmons), and schemes to use the recluse’s wares to woo the kids of the bitter parents. The children would write Klaus letters (using paid-for postage) and Klaus would deliver them gifts. Through Jesper and Klaus’ oddball pairing, in which Jepser’s wiry form is used to slip down chimneys, the legend of Santa Klaus starts to form – from the flying reindeer-led sleigh to the left-out tray of cookies.
The question here isn’t so much whether or not Jesper will learn to fall in love with his quaint surroundings (and schoolteacher Alva, voiced by Rashida Jones), as everyone’s mood starts to brighten and the town starts to flourish, but how a new tradition of good will and selflessness will, essentially, be birthed by winning over the younger generation and tricking the older hate-mongers.
The animation is crisp and cunningly cartoony while the story is a mighty merging of old and new. Privilege is pondered, despair is explored, lessons are learned, and a supernatural spark is lit. It’s a bold move to offer up a new fictional origin point for Santa, especially one that hinges on the postal service as a crucial element, but Klaus is a winner and a nice addition to anyone’s holiday binge-a-thon.