Klaus is quite a deeply odd film, as it sets out to tell the story of how Santa Claus came to be and a good deal of it is deeply rooted in realism. But every so often there’s a very minor sprinkling of magic realism, a dash of the impossible, and for me it doesn’t quite work. All of which is something of a shame as there’s an awful lot about the film which is endearing and engaging and beautifully animated.
It begins with our introduction to Jasper (Jason Schwartzman), the son of the Royal Postmaster General and a man who would like nothing more than to spend his life being waited on hand and foot, and he sees nothing appealing about the life of a postman. His father has other plans for him however and sends him off to the tiny permanently snowy town of Smeerensburg and he can only leave if he can post six thousand letters in one year.
There’s a problem though, in that the two presumably horrendously incestuous families who seem to make up the town are engaged in a centuries long feud, and no one sends letters to each other at all. Jasper seems resigned to spending his life in misery until he meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), who for a reason that’s only revealed towards the end of the film has a workshop that is filled with children’s toys, and so Jasper comes up with a plan to get the children of the town to send him begging letters in exchange for a present.
Essentially the idea is that Christmas only exists because of the actions of one deeply selfish postman, but of course Jasper redeems himself by the film’s finale, and there’s a romantic subplot with Rashida Jones’ initially reluctant school teacher which gives him a very happy ending too, even if it is tinged with a slight element of sadness. A largely predictable film it’s frustrating that after an enjoyable first two thirds it becomes rather trite, and a last moment which is meant to be emotive left me oddly cold.
Visually it’s often quite stunning and there’s a lot of moments which are borderline enchanting, the dialogue is mostly engaging and there’s a good few funny moments. But despite wanting to create a reality based origin story for Santa, there’s a couple of pieces of slapstick which would have seen characters die rather than being momentarily dazed, and for some reason two members of the townsfolk are impossibly large and it’s an odd decision to include such moments in a film like this which is trying to be realistic most of the time.
The way it plays out in the final half hour in such an obvious manner is an issue too, I was hoping for some twist or bit of innovation but it doesn’t really come until the very end, by which time it’d lost the good will it had formerly built up. Younger viewers I’m sure will have no issue with this but if you’re looking for a film to watch with youngsters over the Christmas period Klaus may well end up being one you initially liked but then felt very frustrated by.