This week, I watched Klaus for the first time, and I highly doubt it will be the last. I’m not talking about the last time ever, either – I’m planning on debuting it to my parents tomorrow on Christmas.
Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, Klaus is a directorial debut worth celebrating. With a rich history in both 2D and 3D animated film, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan and Despicable Me, this is the first film under Pablos’ new company, Sergio Pablos Animation Studios.
I’m aware I’m a little late to this party. Klaus hit Netflix in 2019, and charmed the pants off of all who watched it, but I’m not always one for Christmas movies, so I completely missed it. Too many times have I been burned by predictable plotlines, cookie-cutter characters and ham-fisted pop tunes to put my faith into something new.
That’s not to say that, to some degree, Klaus doesn’t have all of these things. However, there’s something incredibly charming with how the movie pulls them all together to create something wholly original and moving.
So, buckle up, because I’m about to show you why Klaus is the movie to watch this year.
Dear Santa Klaus
Klaus tells the story of the origin of Christmas letters, but not in the way you might think.
The film begins in a grandiose postal service center, where we meet our protagonist, Jesper, the spoiled son of the Royal Postmaster General. Prone to avoiding any and all responsibilities, Jesper has spent his time at the postman training academy doing a whole lot of lounging and approximately no training.
Instead of surrendering to his antics as Jesper had hoped, Jesper’s father sends his son to the remote Smeerensburg, a desolate island based on the real-life, now-abandoned Dutch whaling town, Smeerenburg. He gives Jesper an ultimatum – post sixty thousand letters within a year, or be financially cut off from the family fortune.
Upon arrival, Jesper is met with a town in two factions; the Ellingboes and the Krums. These two familial clans have been engaged in an all-out war seemingly since the dawn of time, leading the town into a state of perpetual disrepair.
This, along with the illiteracy of much of the townspeople due to their refusal to provide an education for their children lest they mix with the opposing clan, renders Jesper’s mission near-impossible. Alva, a teacher-turned-fishmonger, compounds this, exasperated by her own inability to shift the mindsets of the locals.
That is until Jesper meets Klaus, an imposing and mysterious lumberjack living in the woods, and with a penchant for toy-making.
Together, the unlikely pairing begins an unintended revolution among the children of the town, and in doing so forge the tradition of letter-writing to Santa.
A tale of tradition
One of the most beautiful things that the movie achieves is taking tradition and turning it on its head when it has to.
In case you hadn’t guessed it, the character Klaus is the big man himself – but not as we commonly know him. Instead of magic powers and a cheerful disposition, Klaus presents as a stoic, thoughtful man – that’s not to say that’s all there is to him, but expanding on his background gives spoilers I’m just not willing to part with.
There’s a significant lack of magic in Klaus and Jesper’s gift-giving antics, with much of the Santa Klaus lore being forged by coincidence and hearsay alone, but this charming reimagining of the Santa Klaus legacy only adds to the film’s quality.
Then, you have the inclusion of the Sámi, the indigenous inhabits of the Sápmi region, formerly known as Lapland.
We first meet Márgu, an unbearably cute little girl who joins the children of Smeerensberg as they wait each day for Jesper at the post office. Speaking only in her native tongue, Márgu struggles to express to Jesper her desire to join in the festive fun, until Alva steps in to help.
This brings Jesper and Klaus to meet her family in their nearby settlement, where an act of kindness brings the Sámi people to their aid, reimagining Santa’s elvish helpers and bringing the rich history and tradition of the Sámi into the fold.
Even the movie’s artistic style evokes tradition, combining hand-drawn elements with new lighting technology to give the whole film a painterly, storybook feel – without the restrictions created by traditional 2D animation. The dark, dreariness of the town is contrasted beautifully with the toys Klaus and Jesper deliver, the bright traditional clothing of the Sámi and the transformation that Smeerensberg undergoes as its inhabitants forge new Christmas traditions.
Find your family
Klaus, at its core, is a movie about family – and not just the family we are raised with, but the family we choose.
It’s not like the film sets this out as an objective, or that any particular character strives for it from the onset, either. Each character in their own right has balance. Klaus isolates himself from the world, preferring the company of his ax and his many birdhouses. Jesper swears no fealty to his own family, concerning himself more with a life of luxury than the interests of … well, anyone else. Alva has lost sight of her dreams, even going as far as to resent the children of Smeerensburg, and stockpiles her meager earnings from fishmongering in order to escape the town as soon as she can.
Even the children do not present unity or progression as an aim. In fact, for a large portion of the film, their only interests are writing letters to Klaus in order to receive one of his awe-inspiring toys.
Instead, the film shows us that when we offer kindness to one another – even if it is a means to receive gifts, in the case of the children in the town, togetherness and the creation of a new family is inevitable.
Over the last two years, many of us have missed our loved ones, and in doing so forged connections with friends, neighbors, and even colleagues to keep spirits high and balance maintained.
Watching Klaus reminded me that, in the face of everything, your family can be so much more than those you are related to. If there’s a dry eye in the house after watching Klaus, I’ll be surprised.