In a Santa origin story, director Sergio Pablos spins a story about how a postman became the first delivery driver for a woodcarver named Klaus.
Spanish director Sergio Pablos, best known for Despicable Me, works a mythical origin back story for the tradition of gift-giving at Christmastime in a way that actually is original. Spoiled Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) of an elite postmaster’s family finds himself sent to the icy, isolated post office in Smeerensburg, ordered to deliver 6,000 letters. Unfortunately, for Jesper, Smeerensburg is a town divided by a centuries-old war between two feuding families (think, Hatfields and McCoys). Desperate to break through, and blessed by a little Christmas magic, Jesper accidentally delivers his first letter to the woodcarver Klaus (J.K. Simmons) who manhandles him into delivering a toy to the first lonely child.
Several side effects happen as Klaus exudes radical generosity, much to the surprise of Jesper. The children on one side of the divide begin to melt to their feud with children from the other family. The local school teacher-turned-fish butcher Alva (Rashida Jones) finds that she was actually supposed to teach children. But Jesper? Jesper can’t seem to wrap his mind around anyone doing something just because it’s the right thing to do. “A true selfless act sparks another,” Klaus tells Jesper during one moonlit run, and Jesper remains unwavering in his selfishness.
But this is a Christmas story. We know that sooner or later, Jesper will get it even while the leaders of the feud on each side turn up the heat on Jesper and Klaus. We know that the point of the movie is that joy, peace, and love will win, but the remarkable story (and its beautiful animation) highlight a dark world not dissimilar from ours, where there are forces at work intent on keeping up the status quo. And the status quo isn’t great for everyone, is it? The status quo says that those without stay without, so that those with much will have more than enough. And yet … Christmas shows up, and generosity happens.
That’s the beauty of Klaus: No matter what the status quo is, Christmas keeps coming and those who feel the magic, the spirit, are moved to extravagant generosity. Don’t wait for Christmas to watch Klaus, because we could use more of that right now.
[Side note: the animation is “old school” and somehow smashes through comparisons to all of the other animated works out there. Pablos has done something amazing here, in ways that make waves, snow, wind, and movement “pop,” while pushing the characters to the forefront. This film is going to make the awards circuit for Netflix and carry the Christmas spirit with it.]. It easily earns Dove approval for All Ages for its power to share the Christmas spirit.