The Dark Herald Recommends KlausThe Dark Herald
A redemption story for Christmas? The nerve of some people!
This is exactly the kind of excellence that Disney can longer achieve.
This was advertised as a Netflix Original. Which is a lie, but I understand why Netflix does this. Calling something a Netflix Original sounds a lot better than, “Dumped on Netflix.” If you can’t get a distribution deal these days, then your best hope is dumping your movie on Netflix.
Netflix does have some standards for this. Usually, it’s a film that came close but didn’t quite hit the mark for one reason or another. Examples: Bright, and Bird Box. Then there are the movies that were genuinely good but couldn’t get a distribution deal, more often than not for politics. Examples: Last Knights, and now Klaus.
Sergio Pablos cut his teeth during the Disney Renaissance in the Nineties. Then he went to work at Blue Sky, where he was the main character designer for Rio. Then he went over to Illuminations where he did Despicable Me. So, the guy has a decent resume.
Finally, Sergio went home to Spain and started his own studio.
And his first film may well have wrecked the company because he couldn’t get a distribution deal for a Santa Claus origin story. No doubt because both Boomers and Gen Xers immediately thought of this as being just a rehash of the Rankin Bass stop motion animation (annual holiday) special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). The reason I know that was going through their minds is because it was going through my mind when my youngest brought it up on Netflix.
I summoned the reserves of parental ennui needed to make it through children’s entertainment that I don’t want to watch.
And it was good. Shockingly good. The character design was great. The script was tight with both A and B storylines properly running side by side and hitting all their beats. The animation was primarily hand-drawn, which doesn’t happen in Western animation anymore. There was certainly some computer graphics at work, but the characters were hand drawn, which brings the artist’s heart to the work.
The opening scene starts in a 19th century major metropolitan post office. Which were pretty interesting places in their own right. Not quite as fast as email but in their day, you could almost have something close to a conversation by letter over the course of a day. It was snail mail on meth.
Anyway, it turns out that this office is the Postal Academy. We quickly get to know our protagonist when we see he is lounging in a tent eating expensive snacks while the rest of the Postal Cadets are toiling away on the drill field. We know that he’s spoiled and obnoxious because the actor voicing him is doing his best David Spade impersonation.
He is dragged out of his comfy tent and presented to the Postmaster General (his father) and informed that he is now a fully-fledged Postman and that he is being sent to the Island of Smeerenburg.* He has one year to mail six thousand letters. If he fails, his rich father is cutting him off and he has to stay on Smeerenburg.
So, he slumps resentfully off to the island and to his horror discovers that the islanders are far too busy feuding with each other to mail letters, or for that matter, learn to read. The constant warfare leaves its mark on everything on the island. Everything is wrecked, broken, and murkily disheveled. Including all of the people, for example, the frumpy (but good looking beneath the frump) fishmonger was supposed to the school teacher. Now she is bitterly saving up her money to get off the Island. Her dreams of doing good in the world as cynically broken as any Gen Xer.
The only letter that Jesper the Postman gets is from a little boy asking the Toymaker (Klaus) if he could have a toy. Klaus is a taciturn and frightening hermit. Enormous in stature and with a gigantic white beard. I’m skipping over a lot of really good stuff here but the gist of it is that Klaus agrees to the request but makes the Postman deliver it. Which he does
Word gets out among the children of the island, who start writing letters to Mister Klaus and the Postman now has a way to get his six thousand letters.
The Postman had started doing a lot of good for very selfish reasons. The children suddenly take a rabid interest in literacy now that there are toys in it for them. The frumpy fish monger starts teaching again and begins to regain her optimism and following ancient movie law becomes better looking and of course, takes an interest in our protagonist.
Children also start behaving better since the Postman makes it clear that the all-powerful Toymaker knows whose been naughty or nice. With their children behaving themselves, the parents very grudgingly start to be just a little nicer to each other.
Even the stern and somber Klaus starts to rekindle his hope.
The Postman has his antagonists, naturally. The leaders who profited from the generations-old conflicts in one form or another need to put an end to the Postman’s schemes. And the Postman must triumph over himself if he is to get what he really needs rather than what he wants.
That’s all I’m going to tell you.
The Dark Herald recommends with Enthusiasm.
*The producers were surprised to find out there really is an island with that name.