Really did not expect to have so much luck with our little project right out the gate. I’m sure it won’t last, but for now I’m riding the optimism all the way to Smeerensburg. Because we’re talking about Klaus, the movie that asks: “What if Solo was about Santa, and good?”


So, I mentioned in my Jingle Jangle review that Netflix Originals is flexing hard on the Christmas front and that I hoped this would continue, and I’m glad I committed to reviewing each movie before watching the next one, because otherwise I would seem much less insightful. Great voice talent on this one--Jason Schwartzman’s doing the heavy lifting as the protagonist/narrator, and the omnipresent JK Simmons still brings the heat that gets him fifty gigs a year. Rashida Jones plays a long-suffering fishmonger/teacher I would set a stranger adrift for without asking any follow-up questions. Sorry if you’re the stranger in this hypothetical. I can only do so much.

So, since this is our first animated feature on the list, I’d be remiss not to talk about how interesting it is to look at. Sergio Pablos is definitely putting his new studio through its paces and there are some absolutely gorgeous shots that reminded me of concept art brought to life. Not because they looked unfinished, but the opposite; they looked iconic and beautiful in a way that usually gets carved up and homogenized a dozen different times in production. But not Klaus!. This baby has the visionary stank on it, and I’m very excited for what Pablos gets up to next. But on, on, to the Christmas Criteria!

1.At least 60% of the story takes place at Christmastime: It’s a year-in-the-life, but things really get ramped up at Christmastime. It sneaks up on you. I mentioned Solo as a joke, but it’s really the anti-Solo, in that the canonical Santa trappings serve more as jumping-off points for the story to explore the origin of than as joyless connect-the-dots forming the words KESSEL RUN. (I did not enjoy Solo.) A lot of “Oh shit, is that…?” moments. Great for the autistics in the crowd (me).

2. Easy to follow, no matter when you start watching: It’s a movie called Klaus that opens with a guy getting disowned and kicked out of mailman college, so there’s a bit of a winding path, but jesus, the world of this movie is dense with visual signifiers of the progress being made. In stories about communities healing, it’s easy to focus on one or two major secondary characters as synecdoche for their entire clan--Tybalt and Benvolio' narrative representation of the collective loathing their families have for each other is more important than anything they actually do in the play (sorry Mercutio). But in Klaus, such care is taken to make the warring families of Smeerensburg both visually distinct from each other and a collection of realized, memorable-to-look-at individuals. It really strengthens the story!

3. At least a little bit magical, cmon: Just a bit! Just the right amount for this story. Cinnamon in the cider. It builds. I don’t want to spoil it. Watch this movie.

4. A song?: There’s a couple of modern pop songs in here, which is a little tonally off, but if that’s the worst thing that happens to your movie then I’d like to know what god you pray to.

5. Imply, or state outright, that a successful Christmas is a balm for the collective soul of mankind, without which we slip ever towards wrath and ruin: Kind of reversed--it’s less about the grand gestures of Christmas making everything better and more about the slow, gradual, brick-at-a-time work of transformative daily kindnesses. Through that, the community becomes a place where the celebration of Christmas can happen organically. Creation of a better tomorrow rather than preservation of a lost, golden yesterday. The movie’s thesis is that “a true, selfless act always sparks another,” and brother, I believe it.


6. Redemption. It’s earned, and it’s beautiful. It’s the whole story!

--I love an animated movie that isn’t afraid to get creepy. There are shots in this that are genuinely unsettling, if not haunting. The arrival at Smeerensburg stands out.
--The toys are so beautiful. A very different take than the toys from Jingle Jangle, which were by necessity more the blue-sparks and unfolding chrome variety. These toys have a simple elegance that uses their wood-carved nature to best effect. Great toys, y’all. Love em.
--The story has some pretty heavy notes of grief, another recurring concept in these movies. Might make it into the criteria. We’ll see. I don’t want it to get too long, but there’s something about Christmas stories that almost demands memento mori. There’s a dead parent in Christmas Chronicles and another in Jingle Jangle. Something to do with the new year, happiness and community necessarily acknowledging the concepts of despair and isolation? Something to keep in mind as we go forward, I suppose.
--Joan Cusack absolutely steals every scene she’s in, as she always does.
--Norm Mcdonald plays Mogens, the Ferryman who brings Jason Schwartzman to the island. Ferrymen are always, to a certain degree, Charon, outsider-figures who offering neither damnation nor redemption, who set terms that cannot be bargained down. They simply are.
--In case I forgot to mention it, this movie is funny. It's a good time. Give it a shot if you haven't.


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