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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Klaus is an animated holiday comedy about a possible origin story for Santa. The movie takes place in the fictional island village of Smeerensburg, where spoiled young postman Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) strikes up an unlikely friendship with a local carpenter/toymaker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). The whole town is involved in a generations-old feud between two families/factions that leads to lots of resentment and treating fellow villagers as "the enemy." Expect lots of sight gags, plenty of physical comedy, and some peril, as well as some mob scenes of village folk armed and ready to fight. There's some romance (flirting, kissing, and marriage); language includes mild insults like "loser," "brat," and "idiot," as well as "what the ... ?" A few characters speak in the Sámi language -- their lines are subtitled. The story promotes moving past old grudges and celebrates the joy of children who want to have friends and to play. Parents and kids will be able to discuss the importance of generosity, compassion, and teamwork in the movie.
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What's the story?
KLAUS follows Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a privileged young Postal Academy employee whose strict father, the Postmaster General, punishes him with the most remote assignment possible: Smeerensburg, an island above the Arctic Circle. Jesper can't return to his pampered life at home until he processes 6,000 pieces of mail in one year. But upon arriving in Smeerensburg, it becomes clear that the citizens aren't inclined to send correspondence: The town is built on resentment and recrimination, and the founding families are engaged in a War of the Roses-style feud. Even the town's one teacher, Alva (Rashida Jones), has turned into a fishmonger because the warring factions don't send their kids to school to sit next to the enemy. After Jesper accidentally delivers a child's letter to village hermit Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a carpenter and toymaker, Klaus asks Jesper to deliver a toy back to the child. This gives Jesper a brilliant idea: Every kid who writes Klaus a letter should get a toy in response; that way, all the eager kids' letters will eventually add up to his father's quota.
Is it any good?
This holiday movie with roots in friendship, bridge-building, and the dying art of letter writing is sure to entertain and amuse thanks to its impressive animation and expressive voice cast. Klaus's take on the Santa origin story is unique and a little loopy, but as Jesper and Klaus collaborate to bring toys to the children of Smeerensburg, the movie manages to explain all of the key points of the Santa legend (the reindeer, the sled, the chimney, the big bag of toys, even the bright red outfit). The snowy landscapes are gorgeously animated -- swirling shades of white, blue, brown, and red -- while the characters are crisp and expressive. On one side, there's the perpetually scowling matriarch of the Krum family (Joan Cusack), and on the other, there's the adorable Sámi girl who ends up enlisting her entire tribe to assist Jesper and Klaus in his workshop.
The initial premise -- that Jesper just wants the kids' postage-paid letters and the return toys delivered so that he can get out of Smeerensburg -- isn't nearly as important as the ensuing friendships between both Jesper and Klaus and Jesper and Alva, who's finally able to go back to teaching once the kids realize they need to learn to write to send Klaus letters. Jesper's character development is crucial in recognizing the story's holiday spirit. Giving to the kids isn't a means to an end at all. The giving is what brings meaning to Klaus, to him, and eventually to the entire town. Sweeter and more thoughtful than it needed to be, this is a fine holiday pick for the family.
Talk to your kids about ...
What do you think of this origin story for Santa Claus? What's unique about it? How does it compare to other Santa-based movies?
- In theaters: November 8, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 15, 2019
- Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones
- Director: Sergio Pablos
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Holidays, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Communication, Compassion, Teamwork
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor and mild action
- Awards/Honors: BAFTA, Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 11, 2020
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