What is Klaus exactly? Well, it’s a damn good movie for one; from a first glance it looks like your average 3D animation project, hell, at first glance it doesn’t look like much, I mean it is a Netflix original – But Klaus is something you definitely need to see; it’s a statement piece, plain and simple. 2D animation isn’t dead yet.
Klaus was directed by Sergio Pablos, who also wrote the screenplay the movie was adapted from, and was produced by Pablos’ own animation studio; the movie tells the origin of Klaus – Santa Klaus – The big red jolly giant himself. The movie was only just released this month, and I have to say, after watching it multiple times myself, it’s one of my top ten favourite animated movies of all time… And that’s not an easy list to make, mind you. It’s a bloody gorgeous film, putting in mind that of an old hand illustrated children’s book come to life. The story isn’t really where the movie shines, let’s just get that out of the way from word one – Whilst it is an original story, it’s… Well, typical. It’s not weak or anything, and definitely feels like an adapted screenplay for sure.
But what of said story? What’s the film about? Well, Klaus tells the story of Jasper, a young, pencil-thin man living a pompous and manicured lifestyle under his father’s wealth. His father being the owner of the postal service for the entire country – Jasper’s father, fed up with his son’s carefree approach to his duties, gives Jasper one last chance to prove himself as a valuable member of society, or it’s cold turkey. No more money from Daddy.
So Jasper is shipped off to the town island of Smearensburg, with the instruction to send 6000 letters from the island to the mainland in order to prove himself. Jasper quickly finds that this isn’t going to be easy, as the only town on the island has no interest in posting letters, and are far more invested in beating each other to a pulp as part of a centuries-old feud between the Crums and the Elingbows.
After a week of trying, Jasper, near ready to give up, stumbles across an old woodcutter named Klaus – The rather scary loner quickly shows himself to be a kind man of few words, delivering a small mechanical toy to a sad lonely child with Jasper’s aid. Jasper then begins encouraging children to write to Klaus asking for toys, as a way to get his duties done so he can go back to his pampered lifestyle… Inadvertently helping the island, and ultimately transforming it and its people. Along with himself.
That’s pretty much the brief summary of the plot. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s not your typical dross either – It’s refreshing, but doesn’t stray too far from the typical setup. That being said, where Klaus really shines is in its visuals and designs. See, there’s no vibrancy in the film at all; none, all the colours you see are mostly neutral. Greys, browns, whites, blacks of all various shades – There is colour, but it’s all washed out, or of a darker shade, such as the green of tree leaves, or the orange of the Elingbows’ hair. Even later in the movie where there is colour, it’s still toned down and flat…
But the lighting. Oh my God – The lighting makes every shot, every frame so much more. I don’t know who did the lighting in this film, but they did not get paid enough. The lighting techniques in the film make the colours and shadows so, so much more vibrant and deep. Due to the lack of contrasting colour in the movie, the lighting only makes the sparse moments of colour pop even more.
The designs are also pretty amazing – Every single character in the film is immediately recognisable with a single glance. From Jasper, to Klaus, and there are a lot of characters, particularly children – My favourite character is actually the old man with the top hat; his name is never mentioned, but I like his voice and his Amish-inspired design. I love how the Crum clan and the Elingbow clan is differentiated by their hair colour, and I love the various landscapes you see in the movie, most of them could be screensavers – There are a few moments in the movie that you’ll get a chuckle out of, but the greatest accomplishment of the movie is the fact that half the shots and scenes look 3D modelled. This is a traditional 2D animation movie; all hand drawn, and in a particular style too… But I swear, I cannot tell the difference. The movie is that good visually.
There are some minor niggles, however; the ‘villains’ aren’t really that villainous, more like a Saturday cartoon baddie more than anything. A few voices feel a bit off, like the Matriarch of the Crum clan, and one or two of the children – The conflict of the movie is a bit weak and cliché… But they far from bring the movie down in any way.
For what it is, Klaus is amazing, and what Klaus is, is art. That much is clear. It’s beautifully well made, and you can tell that no expense was spared on this film. It’s also clear that traditional 2D animation is making a comeback, and Netflix is paving the way; Klaus isn’t the only stand out – There’s also Green Eggs and Ham! I implore you to watch Klaus, by any means possible; it’s amazing.