It can be argued that the 2003 one-two punch of Elf and Love Actually marked the last of the universally beloved modern Christmas films. Yes, there have been plenty of holiday themed films since then, but few have left a lasting impact. The dominating surge of Hallmark romantic comedies, and their numerous paint-by-the-number clones, which are churned out at an alarming rate, has not helped things either. Frankly, it has made it even harder to find the real treasures among the mountain of coal.
Thankfully, even in this shifting landscape, a film like Klaus comes along to deliver an unexpected holiday gift. The funny thing is that Klaus, co-directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López, is not that different from a Hallmark film from a structural standpoint. The film centers around the spoiled son, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), of a postmaster who is reluctantly sent to a small remote town. Of course, it is only a matter of time before he finds love, with a local teacher (Rashida Jones), and ends up learning that small town life is where he is meant to be.
Where this animated film really distinguishes itself is the fun spin it offers on the traditional Santa Clause lore. When Jesper is sent to the island of Smeerensburg near the Artic Circle it is meant to be a wakeup call. Tired of his lack of drive, Jesper’s father wants him to do some honest work for the first time in his life. Charged with opening a post office that can deliver 6,000 letters, Jesper is banned from returning home until his mission is complete.
Desperate to leave the isolated place were feuds between rival clans seems to be the only thing people care about, a glimmer of hope arrives when Jesper meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a gruff carpenter who has a gift for making toys. Seeing an opportunity to accelerate achieving his target goal, Jesper devises a scheme that will get the children of Smeerensburg writing letters to Klaus in hopes of receiving toys in return.
Operating under the guise of being a more realistic telling of the Santa Clause story, while subtly reinforcing the magical tropes it claims to be downplaying, Klaus is a refreshing and immensely charming film. By keeping Jesper at the forefront of the narrative, Pablos and López craft a film that works both as a Christmas film and a entertaining buddy comedy filled with genuine heart.
The digital animation gives Klaus a comforting feel. One wants to grab a cup of hot chocolate and cozy up under the blanket while watching the film. Destined to be added to the yearly holiday viewing rotation, Klaus is worth writing to Santa about.