2D animation, alva, animated, animated feature, animated movie, animated movie review, animation, animators, Christmas, Christmas review, christmas story, computer animation, ellingboe, family feud, hand drawn animation, holiday tradition, holidays, invisible, Jason Schwartzman, jesper, Jesper Johansson, jk simmons, Joan Cusack, Klaus, krum, mail, mailman, Márgu, mess with the postman, naughty list, netflix, netflix animation, Non-Disney, Olaf, oscar nominated, oscars, postman, Pumpkin, reindeer, saami, Saami people, santa, santa claus, santa mythos, santa origins, santa suit, santa tale, sergio pablos, SPA Studios, toys, traditional animation, Will Sasso, Zara Larsson
It may come as a shock to my fellow readers, but I like animation a lot.
So I tend to keep up to date on forthcoming animated projects, especially if it’s hand-drawn animation. One thing I was excited for that seemed to fall through the cracks for most of the 2010s was an independent animated film that finally premiered to great acclaim on Netflix in 2019: Klaus.
The story of Klaus begins with Sergio Pablos, a Disney animator during the 90s Renaissance who struck out on his own after working on Treasure Planet. He did some writing and character design work for assorted films and also created Despicable Me (which I’m not holding against him because one, he couldn’t possibly predict the juggernaut Minions-being-crammed-down-our-throats-24/7 franchise it’d become, and two, apparently his more creative ideas for the first movie were shot down by executives in order to fit the Illumination mold). Pablos still held a passion for traditional animation deep in his heart, however, and founded SPA Studios in his home country of Spain to try to keep the art form alive. Moreover, he wanted to help it evolve so it could stand toe-to-toe with today’s computer animated films while keeping its handcrafted feel.
Believe it or not, Pablos’ first project was one most distributors he approached considered a huge risk: a Christmas movie, specifically a re-imagining of Santa Claus’ origins. Sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, doesn’t it? Making a Christmas movie is no big gamble if you’re on something like Hallmark, they churn out eight of those a week; the mainstream market, on the other hand, is saturated with classic holiday films. Your Christmas feature would have to be something really special to stand out – and boy does Klaus stand out. I mean, no disrespect to computer animation, but after years of CG-animated films that start to blend into each other after a while, seeing fresh traditional cinematic animation is a palate cleanser for the eyes and the soul. Pablos also came through on taking hand-drawn animation to the next level. The studio developed software that renders detailed light and shadow on to the finished animation. How detailed, you may ask?
It’s like a reverse Paperman: instead of CGI that closely resembles 2D animation, it’s 2D animation that resembles highly-detailed CGI. So that on top of backgrounds that are Currier & Ives by way of Maurice Noble, and characters that are some of the most endearing in ages, that are part a story that puts on a fun yet heartfelt spin on a familiar plot that really puts you in the Christmas spirit…
…I love this movie, in case you were wondering.
Our protagonist Jesper Johansson (Jason Schwartzman) narrates the opening; he acknowledges that nobody really sends each other letters these days, but there’s one that many of us do remember sending when we were young – and that all began with a letter for the worst student in the postman training academy, namely him.
The character of Jesper was one of the biggest changes from the original pitch teaser released while Klaus was still in development. There he was depicted as timid yet proper and mature with a British accent, trying to civilize a backwater town by introducing the postal service. In the final film, he’s less Carson from Downton Abbey and more Kuzco. While some have groused over what could have been, I’m perfectly happy with the changes made. Pablos and his team were having a difficult time making the story work with a main character who had little to no flaws or stakes. They only cracked it when they realized making Jesper a lazy, spoiled, entitled jerk would add real conflict and an opportunity to grow. Besides, some of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time center around a selfish grump learning to be a good person, so why break from tradition?
Jesper’s letter is from his father, the postmaster general, who enrolled Jesper in the academy to try to reform him. Jesper views his time there as a chore and thinks this note means he’s finally returning home to his mansion, servants and beloved silk sheets. Mr. Johansson, however, is less than impressed with his son’s laziness and terrible track record. Recognizing that Jesper’s all too happy to spend the rest of his life as a moocher (and that enabling his narcissistic tendencies could lead to a dangerous future in conservative politics), he decides to give him a cold hard taste of reality. He fast-tracks Jesper’s graduation and posts him in the remote Nordic island of Smeerensburg, telling him he has a year to mail six thousand letters or he’s cut off for good. Looks like his reunion with the silk sheets will have to wait.
So Jesper trundles along the nicest-looking desolate countryside I’ve seen in ages all the way to Smeerensburg. The place is a character of its own, like Laketown on steroids. It’s a perfect reflection of its surly inhabitants. The ferryman, Mogens, leads him into the village. Mogens is voiced by Norm McDonald (RIP Turd Ferguson) and he’s one of the more fun characters in this outing. He does not give two ships about anything or anyone and speaks exclusively in sarcasm. The people of Smeerensburg aren’t the most pleasant folk but Mogens’ wry observations give the place some color. He’s a man who enjoys the simple things in life, and those simple things include getting Jesper’s goat. When Jesper wonders why nobody is there to greet him, Mogens tells him to ring the bell in the middle of town square to summon the welcome party. Most people would immediately realize this is a setup, but Jesper isn’t most people. Once he rings the bell, a horde of villagers dash out of their homes ready to attack each other in a violent rage, leaving Jesper caught in the middle of their brawl.
The fighters belong to two households both alike in dignity and bloodlust, the Krums and the Ellingboes, and their long-standing feud makes the McCoys and Hatfields look like a playground scuffle. The heads of the families (Joan Cusack and Will Sasso) appear to egg them on and discover a terrified Jesper. Everyone laughs at the idea of another postman coming to make something of himself in Smeerensberg because they’re too busy trying to kill each other to write letters to anyone.
By the way, I’m not going to keep referring to the clan leaders by their last names as I don’t want to cause any confusion with them and their families. Mr. Ellingboe gets namedropped once in an easy to miss moment (it’s “Axel”) and Wikipedia lists Mrs. Krum as “Tammy” but I don’t know, she seems more like a “Debbie” to me. Can’t imagine why.
The fighting resumes and Jesper ducks into a fish shop that was formerly the town schoolhouse. Alva, the teacher-turned-fishmonger (played by Rashida Jones) isn’t all that different from Jesper: she arrived at Smeerensburg long ago full of high hopes and the desire to teach, only to be crushed by a lack of students because parents didn’t want their kids “mingling with the enemy”. Now she’s stuck selling fish until she can make enough money to blow this popsicle stand. Alva’s prickly, impatient, and nicer than the feuding families in that she only threatens Jesper with violence instead of actually inflicting any – but let’s face it, being trapped in a dead-end job where the system rewards violence over education will do that to you.
It doesn’t take long for Jesper to realize he’s got his work cut out for him, though his stubbornness wins out over his cowardice. When he can’t find any letters out for delivery, he appeals directly to the townsfolk, but true to their word they would rather cause chaos for him and their neighbors. I suppose vandalizing others’ property is a lot more fun than writing hate mail (not that I would know). Almost a whole year passes and there’s nothing to show for it…
EXCEPT FOR THIS HAND-DRAWN SPIDER LOOK AT THE SPIDER LOOK AT IT.
They didn’t have to animate that. They didn’t have to draw 48 individual frames of it scuttling slightly. But they did, just to give this scene that extra ounce of atmosphere. Take it in, folks. This is just the top of this film’s animation iceberg.
Okay, getting back on track. Jesper trudges along his usual route when a drawing of a sad little Krum boy blows in his face. Said boy, who dropped the picture from the window of his large house, asks for it back. Jesper jumps on this opportunity and tries to get him to mail the picture back to himself, only for the boy’s father to show up and respond in the time-honored way of his people.
Mogens pays a “friendly” visit to the post office later and points out one spot on the map that Jesper somehow overlooked for the past 300+ days – a homestead in the mountains belonging to a reclusive woodsman who Mogens says “loves company”. Most people would recognize that no good would come of this, but again, Jesper isn’t most people. So he makes the treacherous trek up the mountains to the woodsman’s place. Since he’s not home, Jesper snoops around the cottage and this is where things go full horror movie: he winds up trapped in a pitch black room filled with abandoned toys and a creepy music box that starts up randomly while vague shadows lurk outside, and runs into a hooded behemoth of a man wielding an vicious-looking axe. Jesper freaks out and skedaddles, unaware that the picture of the little boy has slipped out of his bag. A conspicuous wintry breeze blows it the woodsman’s way and he ponders it…
Meanwhile Jesper prepares to leave town, silk sheets be damned. But it’s too late – the woodsman finds him first.
The woodsman, Klaus (J.K. Simmons), demands that Jesper take him to the house in the drawing. Jesper goes along with it out of fear of being hacked to pieces. It turns out Klaus just wants him to deliver a package. Since it won’t fit in the mailbox and the front door is guarded by all manner of booby traps, Klaus applies a little cartoon physics to his prodigious strength and launches Jesper down the chimney. He drops off the box and escapes the angry father and his hounds in the nick of time. Klaus watches through the window as the little boy opens the package, a beautifully crafted clockwork frog. He runs around the living room playing with it and OH MY SWEET SISTER MARY JOSEPH…
The little boy catches a glimpse of Klaus before he vanishes, leaving behind his drawing. Jesper is greeted to a huge surprise the following morning – several Krum children have flocked to the post office begging to mail letters to Klaus asking him for toys after they learned about what happened last night. Jesper recognizes the opportunity that’s fallen in his lap and sets up a new plan via the quickest way possible: MONTAGE.
Jesper goes around town tempting the children with free toys if they send letters to Klaus. It plays out like he’s hustling drugs on the street and is even accompanied by The Heavy’s “How Do You Like Me Now”. Having a rock song suddenly pop up in this scene is jarring compared to what we’ve seen in the past twenty minutes and yet I can’t say I hate it. The montage is funny and sharply paced, and the song itself is all right even if it feels like it comes out of the blue.
Jesper returns to Klaus’ place with the kids’ letters in hand ready to enact the next stage of his scheme. He properly introduces himself and asks Klaus about donating more of his toys to the children. Klaus turns him down even after Jesper offers to deliver them for free. Then the same winter wind reappears and gently pushes Klaus towards Jesper like a magical spirit guide – hey wait just a minute!
Klaus tells Jesper to return tonight for the toys, but he’ll be going with him to see that they’re properly sent off. Meanwhile the little boy plays with his frog and it hops one property over where it’s found by a girl – an Ellingboe girl. The two happily play together, only to be dragged apart by their horrified parents and brought before their clan elders. Debbie and Axel take the children on a “history” tour of their endless feud. Humorous as some of these conflicts are (“The Great Mooning of ’86” gets a chuckle out of me), the elders emphasize above all else that fraternizing with the enemy would be breaking centuries of tradition. You’d think there’d be a clear reason for this love of war, but no. There’s no misunderstanding to clear up or sins of the father to reckon; it’s the mentality of “just because they’re not us” passed down through generations until it’s so ingrained into their identities that they take a perverse pride in their hatred, blithely accepting that this is how it’s always been and should be. Simplistic? Yes. Relevant? Unfortunately, also yes. The fact that Klaus was released at a time where the older generations are denigrating the newer ones for trying to break with their negative views and conventions couldn’t be more apropos.
I admit, while it is a bit distracting to hear Toy Story’s Jessie coming out of a character whose design calls for a voice like Yzma’s or Snow White’s Witch, Cusack is having a blast in the part. Her conniving passive-aggressiveness is both threatening and hilarious. There’s a moment where Axel says something incredibly dumb and the way she responds with a flabbergasted “How have we never defeated you?!” cracks me up every time.
Jesper and Klaus go on their next delivery together, though since Jesper’s the postman he’s the one who does most of the work. While he bears the brunt of the houses’ traps and snares, he can’t argue with the results; more eager kids line up with letters for Klaus the next day. When some children who don’t have letters admit they can’t write, Jesper gets the brilliant idea of foisting them on Alma so she can teach them how. Alma isn’t wrong in asking him what he’s getting out of this but Jesper insists he only wants to help them learn. When the kids won’t go away, she reluctantly dips into her savings to buy school supplies. She’s rewarded with the kids’ enthusiasm and begins to rediscover her passion for teaching.
Word about Klaus’ “miraculous” toy deliveries soon spreads over town. Jesper finds it difficult to not feel a little jealous when he’s all the kids talk about. In the process of dropping off the toys each night, Jesper unintentionally creates much of the lore surrounding Santa Claus that we’re familiar with today and which fascinates the kids: The idea of Klaus dropping off presents in stockings by the hearth comes from Jesper being too afraid to emerge from a fireplace surrounded by snarling dogs. The children start leaving cookies out for him after Jesper sneaks a few from a plate during his run. When the haul becomes too much for his horse to carry and Klaus considers leaving some toys behind (which in turn would lead to disappointed children and thus less letters for Jesper), Jesper convinces him to hitch a team of reindeer to his sleigh instead.
And then Jesper recognizes a certain Ellingboe boy he visits as one of the bullies who pelted him with snowballs on his arrival into town. Rather than give him his present, he sticks some coal in his stocking as revenge. The next day the boy accuses Jesper of ratting him out to Klaus. Jesper comes up with the idea of the Naughty List on the spot and scares the bully into believing Klaus is omnipotent. “Trust me, you do not want to be on the Naughty List…you still wanna to throw that snowball?” he asks in a deadly whisper. “I didn’t think so.”
The scene is funny enough as it is, but the thing that makes it is the rap sample that drops the moment Jesper walks away with a confident swagger. I think Sergio Pablos predicted all the dank memes that this moment would spawn and wanted to get a jump on it.
The children, who now believe Klaus will only give them toys if they are good, start working together to do good deeds all over town. Their kindness soon spreads to the adults; even though it starts out as a competition between the parents to see who can be the nicest instead of the worst, that cynicism eventually wears off. Friendships are born, the feud is slowly forgotten and Smeerensburg becomes a better, happier place, much to the elders’ confusion. Even Jesper is shocked by how much things have turned around. He mentions this to Klaus on their ride into town one night. Klaus has mostly stayed quiet during his trips with Jesper, but is moved to recall what someone dear to him once said: “A true selfless act always sparks another”. Jesper, however, is of the firm belief that people are only out to get something for themselves.
Debbie figures out that Jesper and Klaus are the source of her clan’s lapse in cruelty and attempts to sabotage their ride in the hopes of scaring them off, unaware that Axel has planned on doing the same at that very moment. The two acts cancel each other out but still cause Klaus and Jesper to lose control of their sleigh and go flying – which, to one little boy who’s still awake, looks like the most magical thing ever.
So Klaus now has another fantastic feat attached to his mystique. When Jesper relays the rumors that he gets around on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, the old man lets out a “HO HO HO!” that echoes through the forest. But Jesper notices that the number of Klaus’ toys are dwindling, meaning soon there’ll be no more toy runs and no more letters to send. Even Klaus is a bit sad that his time with Jesper is coming to an end as the two have befriended each other over the course of their deliveries. When Jesper returns to his office, he vents his woes to a little visitor.
This is Márgu, the first authentic Saamí character in an animated film (no, Frozen movies, you do not count). Baby Yoda made 2019 a stiff competitive year for cute characters, but Márgu could give him a run for his money. She is aggressively adorable (in a good way); persistent, positive, very sweet, and scientifically designed to make you go “awwww!”. I also like how Netflix’s subtitles don’t let you cheat and reveal what she’s really saying in Saamí. You have to go by on the animation and her voice acting, and both are very strong. Márgu has been visiting the post office daily to ask about a toy from Klaus, but since Jesper can’t understand her, he’s ignored her until now. Jesper rambles a bit about how he’s scared of being cut off from everything he knows, and how Christmas coming signals the approach of his deadline. And that’s when he hits upon his biggest idea yet…
Klaus is busy breaking logs apart with his bare hands to make birdhouses when the magical wind leads him to a closed-off room in his cabin. It looks like someone he hasn’t seen in ages is inside…but it turns out it’s Jesper. He plunks Klaus down for a quick pitch of his latest scheme: Klaus will make a whole new batch of toys which they’ll deliver to every child in Smeerensburg on Christmas Eve. Klaus insists that he no longer makes toys, but Jesper continues showing off ideas for his renovated workshop over his protests. He whips aside an old curtain only to discover a part of Klaus’ past that he’s been hiding – or rather, that he’s been hiding from.
While this barren family tree gets elaborated on later, this reveal says everything. Even Jesper recognizes he’s touched a nerve. Klaus yells at him to get out, and he does.
Jesper finds Márgu waiting for him in her usual spot and admits he feels awful for trying to take advantage of Klaus. Márgu can’t speak words of comfort but she is a good listener, and Jesper realizes that’s enough for him. This change in conscience moves him to take her to Alma. He recruits her as a translator so Márgu can finally make her request.
The montage that follows is accompanied by the movie’s theme tune “Invisible” by Zara Larsson. I should really hate “Invisible”. It comes out of nowhere like the other pop songs featured so far with the added sin that it’s a transparent Oscar bait ballad (or at the very least, an attempt at a hit radio single). And yet…it so perfectly captures the message of Klaus, that all it takes is an act of kindness to bring out the best in everyone. Plus, the orchestral flourishes and interludes added to the film version make it sparkle compared to its electronic end credits counterpart. When I can’t imagine the scene without it, they’ve done something right.
Jesper, Alma and Márgu bond with each other as they work together and soon the letter is done. Jesper promises Márgu she’ll get her present, then returns to the post office and gets down to crafting it himself. Klaus comes over to apologize for his outburst, finds Márgu’s note and Jesper working himself to exhaustion. They finish her toy together, deliver it to the Saamí settlement, then lie in wait. An ecstatic Márgu finds it at dawn – a hand-carved sled with a sail. Jesper and Klaus proudly watch as she flies over the snow cheering at the top of her lungs as the chorus belts out “CAN’T TOUCH IT SEE IT WOAH OH OH…”
I had to watch this movie multiple times in order to get my thoughts on it together. When I got to this part? The above gif. Every time.
Though the song and Márgu’s reaction play a major part in this well of emotion, I can’t overlook how its also the turning point in Jesper’s arc. This is the first time he’s gone out of his way to make someone happy with no ulterior motives whatsoever. That smile when he sees how thrilled Márgu is? It’s his first genuine smile as the spirit of generosity finally comes through. Now that he’s stayed to witness the effect his hard work and kindness has on others, he begins to change for the better from here on out.
Jesper can’t stop gushing about how much Márgu loved their present when he and Klaus return home. Klaus recognizes that rush of joy and opens up to him about it. He once had a wife, Lydia, who he loved more than anything. They planned to fill their home with children, but were unable to as the years passed. Then Lydia got sick and passed away, leaving Klaus with nothing but a barn full of toys he created for kids that would never come. He spent his days building birdhouses in memory of her until the day Jesper stumbled into his life.
I apologize if it seems I’ve neglected to discuss Klaus himself in more detail but I’ve been waiting until now to do so. If you’re disappointed that he’s not the main character in the film that bears his name, well, he’s not the protagonist in the same way Jesper is. He doesn’t have to learn a valuable lesson before the credits roll. He is, however, the catalyst for the plot and the changes everyone goes through, so there’s no need to change the title to “The Adventures of Jesper The Mailman And His Best Friend Santa”. JK Simmons is no stranger to the voice acting scene (Gravity Falls, Legend of Korra, Invincible), but out of the already phenomenal cast, he’s the MVP. He fills the role with the mirth that the symbol of yuletide charity calls for, though grounds him with an earnest portrayal of a man weighed down by years of loneliness and regret. Even the sparse dialogue he’s given in the first half of the film carries so much sorrow beneath the gruff attitude in hindsight. Combine that with the fact that nearly all the “magic” behind his myths are based in reality and you get one of the most human depictions of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen. And need I remind you, this is the same actor who got his start playing the Yellow M&M!
Giving the toys away with Jesper has helped Klaus come to terms with his grief and spread more joy than he could have imagined, so he enthusiastically agrees to do the Christmas Eve run. He even wants to take it further and deliver to more villages each year, something which never crossed Jesper’s mind. Once again his guilt over lying to Klaus about his motives flares up.
Jesper pays Alma a visit and is surprised to discover she’s spent all her savings in overhauling the fish shop into a proper schoolhouse full of keen pupils. When he asks about her change of heart, she takes him to the town’s Christmas fair. The place is virtually unrecognizable; families that were once at each others’ throats are now laughing and having fun together like old friends, all thanks to Jesper and Klaus. The only ones holding on to grudges are a handful of disparate Krums and Ellingboes, led by their respective elders. Axel and Debbie, disgusted at the thought of abandoning time-honored hatred and violence for peace and camaraderie, form a reluctant alliance in order to end this stubborn bout of goodwill.
Jesper introduces Alma to Klaus and she joins their cause, along with Márgu and her entire Saamí clan out of gratitude for what they did for her (which I guess makes them the elves?) They fill Klaus’ home with the sense of love and family that’s been missing in his life. As they prepare for Christmas Eve, Jesper finds himself rethinking his earlier statement about living the rest of his days in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of freaks; now it doesn’t seem so bad after all.
Finally, the big day arrives. Jesper and Alma put the finishing touches on some toys while the Saamí give Klaus a bright red suit they made for him to wear. But then Jesper receives an unexpected visitor – his father.
Mr. Johansson congratulates Jesper on exceeding his quota before the deadline, which is news to Jesper. What Mr. Johansson doesn’t know is that the Krums and Ellingboes found the tally of letters Jesper’s been keeping and shipped tons of phony notes out of Smeerensburg to catch his attention. Now he’s come to take his son home. Debbie and Axel compliment Mr. Johansson on the “initiative” Jesper took on implementing the postal service in Smeerensburg, making it clear to everyone that his intentions were self-serving all along. And with that comes the “liar revealed” cliche and all it entails.
All right, to be fair, the movie was doing so well at everything else so far that even though I expected this to happen, I didn’t mind it that much because I couldn’t see how else they could have done this part otherwise (or at least until CellSpex pointed out that they could have been understanding of the situation because the good he did for the town matters more even if it was done under selfish pretenses, thus underlining the theme of kindness repaying kindness even harder). Everyone overdramatically calls Jesper a rat and turns their backs on him, even Klaus.
Jesper goes down to the ferry with his father, who’s oblivious to the fact that his son seems more miserable leaving Smeerensburg than he did going there. Believe it or not, it’s not Jesper who gets through to him – it’s Mogens. Yeah, remember him? He’s mostly sidelined after Jesper and Klaus take center stage. Maybe it’s seeing Jesper so blue to the point where none of his jibes affect him, or perhaps the kindness and giving going around Smeerensburg must have touched him at some point; he did help Klaus and Jesper reach Márgu to deliver her sled, after all. And so, Mogens finally pays it forward as well, convincing Mr. Johansson to talk to his son about what’s got him down (in his own sardonic way, of course).
Márgu, the only one who believed Jesper, races to stop him from leaving but it seems she’s too late. And yeah, we know he’s not going anywhere, but when she’s running to the ferry crying his name…
But nah, Jesper’s still there, thank goodness. Even though we don’t get to see his heart-to-heart with his father, he describes it to Márgu. His dad told him he was proud of him after he told the truth and let him stay in Smeerensburg (he’ll give the silk sheets his regards). Jesper wants to find a way to earn everyone’s forgiveness but quickly realizes there are much bigger things to worry about – the clans are headed for Klaus’ place bearing gifts of torches and pitchforks. By Debbie’s reckoning, the children will return to the old ways once they’re no longer bribed with toys, and the adults will follow suit. As the Saamí are loading a giant sack of presents on to the sleigh, Debbie waltzes up and mockingly asks Klaus if her children can have them.
Klaus says he’ll hand over the toys as long as no one gets hurt, but Jesper leaps onto the scene. He knocks the bag into the sleigh and whips the reindeer into action…but since the reindeer haven’t been harnessed to the sleigh yet, he and Klaus just careen out of control down the mountainside. The clans give chase and Jesper tries to explain himself to Klaus as he fends off them off. Klaus acts pretty childish by doing nothing to help at first but it makes sense when you take the following reveal into account and some of the little things he does to shake off the clans are actually pretty funny…
…Look I’m forgiving of flaws I usually harp on if they’re in movies that I love, okay?!
Everyone winds up hurtling towards a steep ravine. Jesper single-handedly tries to save the toys from oblivion even as his sleigh nearly drags him over the edge…
…but Debbie rips a hole in the sack and they all slip through his fingers. She coldly reminds him that Smeerensburg was founded on resentment and no amount of charity will ever change it.
The old Jesper might have agreed with that. Most people might agree with that.
But Jesper isn’t most people.
Battered but not broken, he climbs to his feet, repeats what his first real friend told him – “A true act of goodwill always sparks another”. He’s seen it more than enough times to know that it’s true, and tells them to turn around if they need proof.
I haven’t really had the chance to bring them up yet, but Axel and Debbie have two grown kids of their own, Pumpkin and Olaf – and when I say grown I mean they’re big enough to serve as their personal bodyguards and enforcers.
Regardless, Debbie and Axel were so caught up in the hunt that they barely noticed Pumpkin and Olaf falling behind. Olaf saved Pumpkin from falling off a cliff, and now they’re both madly in love with each other.
With their respective heavies out of commission, the Krums and Ellingboes have no choice but to head home. Jesper finds one of the presents lying on the ground and discovers it’s nothing but wrapped-up firewood. In fact, all of the presents he attempted to save were decoys. Alva overheard her students discussing their parents forming a mob, so she, Klaus and the Saamí were going to hand over the bag of phony gifts to be destroyed, then proceed as scheduled. It’s a great twist you don’t see coming the first time around and makes so much sense on rewatch; though I have to assume they left Jesper out of the loop on account of the third-act breakup. Or maybe so they could throw off the clans and needed Jesper’s realistic reaction to sell it, I don’t know. Jesper’s sudden return put a crimp in their plans, but seeing him put his life on the line to do what he thought was right has more than redeemed him in everyone’s eyes.
The deliveries continue as planned, and the children of Smeerensburg wake up on Christmas morning to find toys under every tree. Olaf and Pumpkin marry, uniting the Krums and Ellingboes and permanently ending the feud to Debbie and Axel’s disappointment. Klaus and Jesper expand their Christmas operation to new towns. The years roll by and the two friends grow older and grayer together, until one day…
I’ve tried my best to come up with the words to describe the wonder and awe this scene leaves me in, but I don’t think I can. It’s not that hard to guess that the wind guiding Klaus is Lydia’s spirit, something Klaus himself touches on earlier. After a long absence throughout the film she returns, and Klaus knows – it’s time. To us, it’s a bittersweet farewell. To him, it’s a reunion. As Klaus walks up towards the light, he vanishes, transcending the living realm to a higher plane of existence. I’m well aware certain parallels to Kung Fu Panda will come to mind, but not since that or The Last Jedi have I seen a moment of passing on handled so beautifully.
Jesper comes around to Klaus’ for a visit but can’t find any trace of him. It’s as if he was never there. Nobody else knows what happened to him either, and his loss is felt hard. Flash-forward several years later and Jesper and Alva are married with two kids. On Christmas Eve he tucks them into bed, then waits by the fireplace with a plate of cookies. Though Jesper’s never been able to explain it, somehow, once a year, he hears the sound of sleigh bells and a familiar hearty laugh in the sky.
And that means he gets to see his friend again.
Some movies you can tell were made out of love, and Klaus is one of them. Even if its plot sounds like it’s cobbled together from plenty of familiar Christmas stories, the way it’s told feels new. Its message about the power of kindness and selflessness will always be timeless, though there’s a little more to it than that. It shows how a good act may start with less than pure intentions but can grow into something genuine and inspiring, not unlike The Music Man. And as if I need to go on about the animation. It gives me hope for the future of hand-drawn animation in a way I haven’t felt since The Princess and The Frog was first announced. Even though Klaus is not a Disney movie, for all the emotion it inspires and its breathtaking visuals, it might as well be – and believe me, I don’t often go around claiming non-Disney features are on the same level. It’s already a holiday favorite in my household, and I’m confident in saying it’s a new Christmas classic. Rewatching it the many times I did for this review has also made me realize it might also be one of my favorite movies. Not just Christmas movies, I mean all-time favorite films. The animation, the humor, the characters and the lesson it imparts all touch me in a way few have. I look forward to revisiting every year, and I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a watch as well. It’s the perfect handmade Christmas gift from some incredible artists.
Thank you for reading! I hope you all have a happy and safe holidays and new year! Apologies again for this review going up late; I often burn out trying to get the Christmas reviews done but in this case it was unfortunate timing with some health issues. Thank you for understanding. Special thanks to my patrons Amelia Jones, Tyler Green and Sam Flemming for their contributions. Those who join the Patreon party get special perks such as sneak previews of reviews, requests and more! Faerie Tale Theatre reviews are posted on the 6th of each month while film reviews are posted on the 20th.