'Klaus' is one of the best animated movies of the year and a stunning revival of 2D animation

Business Insider Lifestyle 1 month ago
  • Warning: There are mild spoilers ahead for "Klaus."
  • Netflix is releasing its first full-length original animated movie about the origins of Santa on Friday, November 15. 
  • It's one of the year's best animated films for its sweet story of friendship and self-discovery and its push to revitalize 2D animation for a younger generation.
  • Jason Schwartzman's postman Jesper will give you vibes of Emperor Kuzco from "The Emperor's New Groove."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

I went into "Klaus" wondering why we needed an animated holiday movie about the origin of Santa Claus. By the time the 98-minute movie concluded, I found myself sobbing and couldn't stop.

That probably won't be everyone's reaction to Netflix's first foray into full-length animated features, but it goes without saying that "Klaus" is something special and a testament to director Sergio Pablos' storytelling ability.

The film follows Jesper, a spoiled postman (Jason Schwartzman) who's given an ultimatum: start a post office in the Arctic Circle or be cut off from the family's fortune. As he's about to throw in the towel, Jesper befriends a reclusive toyman Klaus (J.K. Simmons). The unexpected friendship inadvertently helps transform a broken village ravaged by years of internal fighting while starting to thaw Jesper's own selfish outlook on life. 

For anyone who misses the heyday of 2D animation, Pablos and the crew at his animation studio revitalize the medium for a younger generation while delivering an endearing story with "The Emperor's New Groove" vibes.

Why you should care: 'Klaus' is the passion project of 'Despicable Me' cocreator, Sergio Pablos, with the heart of a traditional animated film.

You may not recognize Pablos by name, but you know the projects he has worked on: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Tarzan," for example.

The former Disney animator, who created the "Despicable Me" franchise, tried getting 2D animated "Klaus" made on and off for about 10 years. After getting passed over by big studios, Netflix acquired the global rights to the film in 2017.

The film combines newer tech to deliver a film that brings traditional 2D animation into the 21st century by making "Klaus" feel both nostalgic and fresh at the same time. Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Joan Cusack lend their voices in this one.

What's hot: The animation, a story that will tug at your heartstrings, and Schwartzman's performance as the selfish and spoiled son of postman royalty.

If you're a big fan of traditional animation, you may find yourself marveling over the look of the film from the start. Working with 250 animators, "Klaus" uses lighting tools to give an added depth to the 2D characters seen on screen.

Because of that, you may be wondering what is hand-drawn versus CGI in "Klaus." A scene in the film's first half hour with icicles looks like it has to be made on a computer. Pablos told me it was all hand-painted. It's that meticulousness that will make those who grew up loving hand-drawn animated films appreciate what they're seeing on screen as it's transformed and put on display for a younger generation.

"Klaus" itself plays like a Disney classic. That's not a mistake. Pablos, along with Netflix's director of character animation James Baxter, bring their years of experience of working together for the Mouse onto the Netflix original. The two met years ago on "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." A handful of the film's animators have also worked on movies from Disney's '90s renaissance.

Schwartzman may not be David Spade, but Jesper feels like a distant cousin of Emperor Kuzco, the bratty, entitled ruler who received a rude awakening when he was transformed into a llama in Disney's cult classic. His performance livens up the original test animations for the film that were released in 2015. You'll eagerly eat up every moment as he receives a rude awakening away from a life of privilege and pampering. 

What's really special about "Klaus" is how cleverly Pablos grounds the origins of Santa's mythology in reality without ever saying his name. Kids and adults alike will smile as they see how rituals such as leaving cookies out for Santa and writing letters to the man in the red suit are effortlessly inserted into the movie. 

Pablos gives another layer to Kris Kringle by giving him a somber back story that will have you fighting back tears.

What's not: Not much. Honestly, Netflix could be marketing this a bit better.

The only thing that disappointed me after watching "Klaus" was viewing the trailer for the film afterwards. Until I watched it, I really didn't know much about the film other than it being a Santa origin story.

It's much more than that and it doesn't come through on Netflix's trailer for the film. The big booming sound of Panic! at the Disco's "High Hopes" is a bit jarring from the overall tone of the movie, something commenters have pointed out on YouTube as well.  

Give us a trailer centered around Jesper's perspective told from a meta fourth-wall breaking method. 

Pablos told me "Batman Begins" was a source of early inspiration for his vision, playfully giving the film an alternate title, "Santa Begins." Give people a trailer for the film cut like that. 

The bottom line: Gather the family together and watch this.

Funny, sweet, and beautiful to watch, "Klaus" has the makings of a holiday classic. It's a story about finding your place in the world, while reminding us to embrace our differences and be a bit nicer to those around us. 

Make sure to have a few tissues nearby.

Grade: A

"Klaus" will be available in select theaters on Friday before its Netflix release on November 15. Watch a trailer for it below.


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