"Klaus" Review

Title: Klaus
Director: Sergio Pablos
Studio: Netflix
Genre(s): Fantasy
Rated: PG (For rude humor and mild action)

This year, Netflix is giving movie lovers a giant Christmas gift: A 2D animated film with a decent budget and lots of exposure!  Though the film (criminally) is only being released in a couple of theaters for one week (for Oscar consideration), the film is being dropped onto the streaming platform just a few days after the launch of the highly anticipated Disney+ streaming service.  It's a release I find particularly amusing as it comes off as a direct declaration of war against Disney, the studio that pioneered 2D animation for decades, but has since moved on to exclusively making 3D CGI films (while letting their best animators walk).  If I didn't know better, I would think Netflix was channeling legendary animator Don Bluth, who so famously released his film "The Land Before" to theaters on the same day as Disney's "Oliver & Company," which showed Bluth out-Disneying Disney in multiple ways (this strategy was less effective when he threw "All Dogs Go to Heaven" against "The Little Mermaid," but, whatever).


The man directing this film is Sergio Pablos, who was the co-creator of Universal's extremely successful "Despicable Me" franchise.  Don't let that scare you off though.  While those Minions have been the bane of many parents existence for many years, "Klaus" is a return to the kind of classic storytelling animation used to be known for.  Gone are fart jokes and pop culture references!  Talking sidekicks voiced by celebrities are no where to be found!  Instead, the film relies on bright colors to amaze!  Fluid animation that is not possible with CGI in most cases!  From what I've heard, there are CGI techniques buried deep beneath the structure, but where they are used I surely could not tell (and I actually did see this in a movie theater).  Granted, looks aren't everything, but considering how rare it is for an American film like this to actually get made, one must at the very least admire the wrapping before tearing it open.

Thankfully, the gift inside is a very good one indeed, as it tells the story of a postman named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) who is exiled to an island by his father and tasked with delviering over 6,000 letters if he wants to maintain his family fortune.  The island itself has been at war for centuries, as discrimination and hate fuel life on it.  Jesper surely thinks this is a joke, but is determined to get back to his pampered life.  When he ends up accidently bringing a massive (but secretly kind) woodsman a child's drawing, the woodsman called Klaus (J.K. Simmons) decides to reward the child with a toy.  Noticing how many toys are sitting in Klaus's shed, Jesper manages to set up a postal system on the island where kids can get a toy so long as they write Klaus a letter (unless the kid is mean to Jesper.  He takes mental notes on those kids and gives them coal).  For some, "Klaus" may end up making the myth of Santa Claus a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

While the scenario is certainly creative, I can see some arguing that it isn't very imaginative.  It manages to scientifically explain how all of this is supposed to work, which is something I've knocked previous holiday films like "Fred Claus" for doing.  The difference here, I think, is that "Klaus" is ultimately a lot of fun and has a good heart.  The characters selfish nature is a little overblown, but it seems necessary if they are going to be won over by Christmas spirit by the end.  It helps that colors are perfect.  The movie begins looking drab and grey, but by the end the whole thing is so colorful you can't help but be excited for the next time the holiday roles around.  It truly is a shame that the film isn't being given a proper theatrical release, as seeing it on the big screen was a great experience that would have resulted in good word-of-mouth.

Course, considering the politics of making movies like this at all these days, we should probably consider ourselves lucky Netflix stepped in to fund the project when all the other studios turned it down.  They didn't like the 2D animation.  They felt Christmas movies were too joyful to succeed at the box office anymore.  It didn't matter that the man directing and writing created the Minions, the Minions weren't in this movie, so why should anyone care?  The more Netflix films I see, the more I feel grateful that the company makes them.  The more of them I see in theaters, the more I wish they were a bigger player there.  Despite my personal issues with the release, most families are likely to enjoy the film, and I suspect it will become a holiday favorite as the years go by.

Parents, there are some brief scary moments, but nothing too serious.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.