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Klaus (2019)

By Elvie Mae Parian

Jesper is incompetent, lazy, and downright selfish. As the son of a Postmaster General, he takes full advantage of the luxuries he receives, housed at his father’s postal academy. As a last resort to shape up and scare his son for the better, Jesper’s father sends him off to the near-remote, distant town of Smeerensburg. There, Jesper is tasked with posting thousands of letters, or he will be cut off from the family estate. Upon setting foot in town, it becomes immediately clear to Jesper as to why Smeerensburg has a nasty reputation as foreboded to him: with its history of in-fighting between two warring families and thus no substantial postal system, Jesper realizes that his assignment will be tougher than it already is to complete.

After numerous attempts and plans backfiring to get the Smeerensburg townsfolk to cooperate, Jesper grows desperate. He discovers a lodge located in the outskirts of town, and ends up concocting a new strategy with the towering, lonesome older woodsman that resides in it, Klaus. After overcoming his initials fears of him, Jesper learns that Klaus makes toys, and thus the two end up working together to deliver them to the town’s children in exchange for letters.

Klaus is essentially a Christmas film about Santa Claus that does not center the jolly ol’ man in red as the main protagonist. Klaus earns the title of being relatively unique because although it is indeed a Santa Claus origin story, our focus does not rely on the eponymous character’s perspective, but rather, someone else’s—and it remains that way for the entirety of the film. We follow along the journey of this original character named Jesper and it is through Jesper that we are able to situate ourselves through his own inference as to who Klaus is. In fact, the main conflict also does not technically connect to the Klaus character himself. Klaus is treated as a supporting character to Jesper’s growth through and through. This created distance from the man who might have been the source of Santa Claus emphasizes the mystery that Santa is supposed to be.

Klaus also benefits from the fact that Santa Claus and his iconography is so pervasive in our culture. It avoids overstepping on its references while also still being accessible in conveying the key ideas of what defines the Santa myth. For instance, on a delivery run, the sleigh Klaus and Jesper are riding in is overwhelmed by the weight of gifts. The sleigh’s runner gives in and Klaus and Jesper fling off the steep edge of a slope by way of momentum. A child happens to turn to their window during this moment, seeing the two frantically skyrocket across the air. The next day, the child spreads the rumor that Klaus’ sleigh flies. Klaus does not forget about the magical touches and mystique necessary to tell a story like this, in which many things are left up to your imagination to be explained, but much of it is cleverly grounded in logic. Although structurally the story falls into place in ways that are all expected and self-fulfilling with tropes, Klaus never finds itself boring and remains consistently funny and interesting in all the right beats and bits of magic it offers.

Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, a directorial debut for him, Klaus initially struggled to get the backing it needed to reach full fruition. It was only then until Netflix enthusiastically supported the production due to the recent bankability of Christmas-themed films. Klaus’ production team comprises of different artists vetted across the world of different experience levels, Pablos himself having been an animator alum of the Disney Renaissance and creator of the Despicable Me franchise. Pablos recognized the need for a resurgence in traditionally 2D animated features in a world where the medium has evolved since the advent of digitization and theorized what such a production would look like in this day and age.

There are only so many words to describe how beautiful Klaus is, and it is simply one of those experiences that is intended to be absorbed visually. The animation needs to be seen to be believed and hitting all the right beats in proper with the film’s diverse character designs of varying shapes and sizes. Attention to form and the consistent linework demonstrates the work of artists who knew what they were doing. The film is also colored in a painterly fashion, an intentional quality harkening to the style of illustration that would be commonly seen in a children’s book. Klaus’ evolving color palette and attention to lighting are also one of the stronger supporting elements to the film’s storytelling, especially in the symbolic visualization of Jesper’s maturation and the town of Smeerensburg’s own changes.

Klaus should not be forgotten and only remembered once a year as merely something that is framed as a Christmas movie, but it should be viewed simply as a well-done animated film that is able to stand on its own for its successful qualities. The years of work and wait by SPA Studios and the other artists on the production team paid off. The end of the stigmatization of what animation is needs to begin with the recognition of how much hard work it takes to deliver quality results. Traditional animation never died and whoever thinks it ever did it at a point should rethink otherwise—especially with the medium’s recent utilization in video games—but Klaus is a strong reminder of what it is more than capable of.

Ultimately, Klaus alone did not create this epic momentum reviving a mass pivot towards traditional 2D animation in features, but it sure has well succeeded in proving a point of what the medium can do. Especially when properly adapted to the ever changing climate of the production and art making process in this fruitful, modern time period filled with all sorts of digital tools.


IN A NUTSHELL: A striking, animated masterpiece that deserves to be seen beyond the bounds of its marketed genre but for its overall, strong visuals and storytelling.




Elvie Mae Parian is an animator who also likes to spend her spare time through writing and criticism. You can follow her on Twitter and see her own art on Instagram.