REVIEW: Klaus (2019)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Klaus — Directed by Sergio Pablos.

This year it almost seems like Netflix is plotting to take over the entirety of the Academy Awards. In a couple of months, Netflix hopes to have films like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Dolemite Is My Name earn nominations and possibly wins at the prestigious awards show. At the same time, Netflix has distributed some of the year’s most talked-about documentaries, so they should earn a nomination in that category as well. Netflix has plenty of frontrunners this year’s film awards season. If Sergio Pablos’ film has anything to say about it, Netflix might also earn a nomination in the animated feature film category for the very first time. Pablos’ Klaus isn’t just Netflix’s first true attempt to earn such a nomination, Klaus is also quite good.

Sergio Pablos’ Klaus is basically an origin story for Santa Claus, even though the titular character is merely a supporting character in a quite predictable story. Klaus tells the story of Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a selfish and aimless son of a wealthy man from the postal service, who is challenged by his father to become a successful postman on the cold island of Smeerensburg. If Jesper fails, his father will cut him off from the family and their wealth. In Smeerensburg, Jesper eventually strikes up a friendship with a white-bearded, hulking mountain of a man known as Klaus (voiced by J. K. Simmons, who is genuinely great and moving here). Together they come up with an idea that could help the people of Smeerensburg communicate and thrive. But their novel idea of tapping into the joy of gift-giving is not well-received by everyone on the cold island.

I think the best and most notable thing about this film is its animation-style. These days American animated films are made up almost entirely of 3D-animation, and even though it is incredible to see how far we’ve come with that animation style in a film like Toy Story 4, I think it is really nice to see an American animated film like Klaus that doesn’t just follow that same animation trend. The 2D-animation style in Klaus is refreshing to me because it feels not only nostalgic but it also, frankly, feels updated. The lighting effects feel modern, but the animation style feels nostalgic, and, as a result, I think Klaus is one of the best-looking animated films of the year. At times, this film’s animation is jaw-dropping. I think this film could inspire animators everywhere to consider challenging the American 3D-animation trend.

But, as they say, looks aren’t everything. Though there are some nice and affecting new ideas in the plot — mostly concerning the titular character and the ending of the film — Klaus feels formulaic precisely because the main character’s arc is terribly predictable and obvious. On top of this, I think the soundtrack really hurts this film. There are multiple distracting popular songs thrown haphazardly into the film that take away from the atmosphere that the animation had worked so hard to establish. To be perfectly honest, these popular songs made the film feel cheap. However, I do think that Sergio Pablos’ Klaus is one of the best-looking animated films of the year. It won’t blow you away, but it might warm your heart.

7.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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