10th December: Klaus

Image: Netflix

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy! 

Year: 2019

Directors: Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martínez Lopez

Writers: Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney, Zach Lewis

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso

Delightful. Bloody wonderful. Klaus and its gorgeous hand-drawn animation have the feel of a fairy-tale, of a magical world not dissimilar to our own, but with more wonder and joy. It is a pleasure to watch from start to finish. Moving, exciting and surprisingly funny, this is a Santa film of a high calibre. 

With most of these entries I have not been giving plot details and haven’t much bothered to avoid spoilers. This is because, broadly speaking, who hasn’t already seen Home Alone other than, well, me? Klaus however, one of Netflix’s elite crop of Oscar-nominated original films, is a relatively new addition to the Christmas canon. It is not of the ‘holiday staple’ variety and may veer closer to a place in Streaming’s Hidden Treasures than some of the other films in this list.

So: Klaus is quite similar to your usual superhero origin story, but with Santa instead. When we meet him, he is simply called Klaus and is a large, bearded woodsman with an unusually large reserve of toys voiced by the always-marvellous J. K. Simmons. Klaus is befriended by our actual lead character, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a spoilt posh boy who’s dad seemingly runs the entire world’s postal service. Upon spurning yet another silver spoon from his father, Jesper is sent as punishment to the isolated Arctic island of Smeerensburg.

To escape what at first seems like hell on earth, Jesper must deliver 6,000 letters in one year in Smeerensburg, or his dad will cut him off. This proves difficult as it at first seems that nobody in Smeerensburg has any letters to send and instead spend all their time engaged in violent battles with each other. Two main clans, the Ellingboes and the Krums, have been locked in a kind of guerrilla warfare (a family-friendly version, of course) for hundreds of years seemingly only out of respect for tradition.

So, with this set-up, Jesper and grumpy Klaus meet then bond and start delivering the latter’s toys to the people of Smeerensburg. Obstacles to their success include Jesper’s desire to leave and return to gilt-edged luxury, and the Ellingboes and Krums’ dislike of all things happy and harmonious. It is probably a lot simpler than I have made it sound and is really just a story of friendship and giving.

Director-writer Sergio Pablos and his team have a lot of fun with the Santa origins element of the story, weaving nice humour and knowing references into the more emotional, heartwarming parts of the story. The voice cast, especially Joan Cusack as Mrs. Krum, are excellent and the whole thing has a wonderful mixture of tones. Everything moves at a well-judged pace and turns on a dime from voyage of self-discovery to comedy montage.

My only real complaint is that for all its superb execution, the story Klaus is telling is pretty damn predictable. A selfish man learning to care for others at Christmas. A grieving one who becomes less grumpy with the help of others. A message of tolerance, peace and love. The last one may be worth repeating ad infinitum, but the basic elements of Pablos’ film border on tiresomely familiar. This holds it back from being a truly great film, I feel, needing more originality or subversion to really stand out. 

Yet the story is so affectionately told, and such a perfect, seamless balance of tones, that it is lovable nevertheless. It is a film I have only just seen and am already excited to revisit next year, which is perhaps the greatest compliment you can give a Christmas film.

Where it Ranks

With Die Hard still top dog despite its not exactly having the same festive energy as the other films, Klaus is left to take second spot. None of the films on this list have reinvented the wheel or even surprised me that much, and those that do feel different like Gremlins or The Nightmare Before Christmas have other storytelling issues. Klaus may tread familiar ground, but it does so better than just about anything else so far.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Klaus
  3. Arthur Christmas
  4. Elf
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  6. Gremlins
  7. Home Alone
  8. Nativity!
  9. The Holiday
  10. The Santa Clause

Andrew Young