Two dimensional animation from major studios has been struggling for years in the West. While Japan has a grand tradition of beautiful, complex, cel animated films that is being continued on to great success by artists like Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda, Hollywood is dominated by CGI, with Pixar leading the charge. Now that the Disnay department for 2D animation is no more, it seems as though this hegemony won’t be challenged anytime soon, and while I love movies like Coco, letting other forms come to the forefront every so often would provide some much needed visual variety. So as much as the new Netflix Original Klaus isn’t perfect, I respect its return to where animation began, and how the filmmakers provided incredible handcrafted beauty in almost every frame.
Writer and director Sergio Pablos made a bold choice in his protagonist, considering the current political climate: Jesper, a spoiled rich boy who has never worked a day in his life, and who is flunking out of the Royal Postal Academy despite coming from a long line of postmen. After failing every possible part of the course, his father presents him with the challenge of posting six thousand letters from his new station of Smeerensburg, a frozen town on an isolated island, threatening to cut him off from his life of privilege if he fails. Upon his arrival, he finds a village divided, dominated by two uncommunicative clans who despise each other for seemingly no reason, and who certainly won’t be haing many external correspondances. But this all changes when Jesper meets Klaus the Woodsman, who gives him an idea that might help him get back home.
I don’t want to reveal too much more, because the progression of the story was a delightful surprise to me, and spoilers would have ruined some of this magic. All I can say is that Jesper becomes increasingly sympathetic (though is still pretty insufferable at first), and Klaus is a constant joy, his charming stoicism enhanced greatly by the legendary J.K. Simmons’ voice performance. Not all of the jokes landed for me, but I appreciated the light tone they provided, as well as the message of community that ran through every facet of the screenplay. The only other aspect of Klaus I had any issue with was the contemporary pop soundtrack, for two main reasons: 1. I am a premature curmudgeon, and 2. without revealing too much, I feel as though an orchestral score would have enhanced the mythological feel that unfolds throughout the narrative.
It’s a pity that every other major studio deemed Klaus ‘too risky’ for wide distribution, because watching it on a screen bigger than my TV would have allowed the already spectacular animation to shine even brighter. Beginning with the visual rigidity of the academy and the grey, monochromatic landscape of Smeerensburg before moving into brighter colours and more dynamic imagery as Jesper and his environment grow, every little visual detail in this film was fleshed out far beyond my expectations. The character designs are expressive and revealing, giving you all the information you need, and the quieter moments of the film that allow the animation to provide all of the storytelling are by far the best, especially with regards to Klaus himself.
Sf you’re looking for a charming, original Christmas film to watch over the coming weeks then put aside Christmas with the Kranks and give Klaus a try, if only so that studios will realise once again that this mode of animation can and does attract an adoring audience.