Skip to main content

It’s not a letter if it doesn’t have postage, right?

Klaus
(2019)

(SPOILERS) I guess Netflix’s negligible quality control, movie-wise, has to score a positive occasionally, and this Christmas – but fairly loosely so, ironically, in that the trappings are in scant supply for the most part – animation is an unlikely delight. A Santa Clause origins tale doesn’t sound like the stuff of a great movie – origins stories so rarely are – but Sergio Pablos’ feature debut Klaus is stylistically distinct, emotionally compelling, and frequently very funny.

Which is a godsend in animation arena where everything feels focus-tested to within an inch of its life, such that even the quality end of the market – the Pixars – are tonally and visually amorphous, however diverse their subject matter. Thus, we’re treated to a hand-drawn animation, the mention of which now seems to hearken to a forgotten age of antiquity (I wasn’t even sure Klaus wasn’t just faux-hand-drawn until I checked) and quirky character designs that do suggest someone who worked on the Disney renaissance (most particularly Hercules).

But these would only go so far if a strong screenplay wasn’t in place, and the one from Pablos with Jim Mahoney and Zach Lewis hits all the right notes, coming at the Christmas favourite from an entirely fresh angle. Jason Schwartman’s Jesper Johansson, an indolent waster, is sent by his despairing father, a rich Postmaster General, to the remote and desolate island outpost of Smeerensburg, with instructions to turn it around within a year or he’ll be cut off (six-thousand letters must be posted). Jesper finds an entirely unwelcoming town built on perpetual feuding, with little in the way of prospects for post (or schooling, as evidenced by Rashida Jones’ teacher turned fishmonger). It’s only when he meets the reclusive Klaus (JK Simmons), a woodsman with an arsenal of toys, that he hatches a scheme to meet his targets via the towns’ kids’ desire for playthings. While his motives are entirely mercenary, however, his plan sets off a chain reaction, from kids needing to learn to write (to send letters to Klaus) to the knock-on of their getting on with each other spreading to their parents.

The skill of the screenplay is making these twists look effortless and even inspired, as the principles of Christmas gift giving vis-à-vis Santa (the naughty list, doing good deeds, secretly smuggling presents into houses, even the soaring sleigh) are introduced and cemented on the fly. Naturally, there’s a strong moral, but it doesn’t feel chokingly forced as these things often do in family fare, and Jesper’s assumption that “Everybody’s out to get something, right?” is undermined, not least by himself (admittedly the philosophical probing of selfishness only extends so far, but it wouldn’t really do to cynically attribute every action to selfishness on some level in such fare).

Schwartzman’s performance reminded me a little of David Spade’s in Emperor’s New Groove, and he handles Jesper’s growth with lightness and verve. Simmons, meanwhile, is simply superb as Klaus, particularly in judging the depths of his loss. When it comes to his becoming the legend we know (“What happened after that, I can’t even comprehend”), the film might easily have choked with sentiment, but the emotion feels earned.

If there’s a criticism of Klaus, it’s a minor one; the principal families, the Ellingboes and the Krums, are granted insufficient time to develop as villains, so when they’re called upon to advance the plot (by implementing destructive measures towards Jesper and Klaus’s plans) it lacks the extra edge it might have had. But Klaus is undoubtedly a great movie, superbly styled (the terrifying hounds), with lovely visual gags (Alva introduced with a fish head) and a fine score (from Alfonso G Augilar). Even the cute kids (in the form of the Sami girl) aren’t irksome. Plus, it has that all-important indicator of a great animation: boggle-eyed chickens.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Did you not just hand over a chicken to someone?

The Father (2020) (SPOILERS) I was in no great rush to see The Father , expecting it to be it to be something of an ordeal in the manner of that lavishly overpraised euthanasia-fest Amour. As with the previous Oscars, though, the Best Picture nominee I saw last turned out to be the best of the bunch. In that case, Parasite , its very title beckoning the psychic global warfare sprouting shoots around it, would win the top prize. The Father , in a year of disappointing nominees, had to settle for Best Actor. Ant’s good, naturally, but I was most impressed with the unpandering manner in which Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton approached material that might easily render one highly unstuck.