PG. I kinda-sorta-not-really-but-kinda got scolded for putting this on for a group of kids at our Christmas party. I didn't screen it, but I had a bunch of kids who wanted to watch a movie and Netflix was already there. Now that I've seen it, the beginning can be kind of scary. It might be something that is considered part of a Christmas tradition to juxtapose the goodness of Christmas with something evil and disturbing. I don't think the movie is that bad. The town is full of awful people who are trying to kill each other using comic mischief. Klaus can come across as a bit scary. But really, the movie is mostly fine. I ended up watching it with my kids and they loved it...once the scary stuff was over. PG.
DIRECTORS: Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez-Lopez
Okay, I see the danger of this one. I'm with you. I was watching this movie and super nervous throughout. The elephant in the room is that the movie is actively divorcing the Santa Claus myth with its tenuous attachment to St. Nicholas. It's not the first movie to do so and it probably won't be the last. But considering that Klaus is meant to be a Santa Claus origin, it does get into some dicey places that might make some people upset. If the movie wasn't so good, I would probably be angrier and less forgiving. But the movie is pretty good. It never actively fights against the Christmas mythos, so much as it wants desperately to reinterpret the story.
Yeah, do I wish Jesus and the nativity played a bigger role in this movie? Definitely. I want my faith told well. (I have to write about Breakthrough coming up, so pray for me on that one. Sheesh.) But Klaus does something that I also kind of support. Klaus works because it tells a new story well. Christmas movies, at least for me, are getting real tired. There seem to be a set of rules that state what one can do with a Christmas film and what one can't do with a Christmas film. Thanks to Hallmark, the corporate Christmas nightmare, we've beaten every combination of Christmas trope into the ground. It's not on Hallmark alone. That's a bit unfair. For the most part, they stay out of the way of the supernatural elements of Christmas. Those are the ones that get me interested in the story.
But Klaus presents the concept that really has been done before: what if Santa wasn't always the good guy of the story? That's a gross misrepresentation of what actually happens in the movie, but it is a nice starting point when presenting this movie. Santa has always been the morally perfect character in the story. With The Santa Clause, the movie tried playing with this concept by imbuing a normal human being with Santa's essence, but it still is a bit of a cheat. It's not like Klaus himself is evil or anything. But the movie posits that it would take something marvelous and special to want to become Santa Claus.
Which actually might make the movie an even more important story than I realized. With St. Nicholas always being, at least in popular culture, a good dude who was almost divinely inspired to do something great, it is hard to associate with that character. I know that the saints serve as inspiration for us to do the same, but St. Nick has always been on another level. He's always come across as something supernatural and superhuman. We tend to relate to those who receive gifts, not the ones who make them. But by making Klaus a human guy with human problems, it allows the viewer to somewhat sympathize with him. With the ability to sympathize with Santa Claus, that means that we too should be Santa Claus.
Because Klaus is stubborn. I'm taking a really deep dive into the titular character and not into Jesper. I hope I have the foresight to wax poetic about Jesper. But the real close read comes from looking at Klaus. His super power is his normality. The world that the film inhabits is one with limited magical interaction. Yes, it is larger than reality. There's something exaggerated about the way that this island operates. It's not unlike other settings we see in children's animation, but it does kind of follow a lot of the same rules. I don't quite know the world building of this movie. Christmas, for example, does exist. Jesper is aware that Christmas is coming up and makes the plan to put everything on the line for the celebration of Christmas annually. Outside of a mysterious wind meant to represent Klaus's deceased spouse, there's not much supernatural happening until the end.
This is oddly important for the creation of the Santa Claus myth. It's so easy to write off the character as something magical and the shift that Klaus has to make is only minor if magic is ever-present in this world. But it's only the faith that we have that Klaus's decision to be gifted with seasonal immortality is what drives us. There's always the question of how this will keep going. I adore that Klaus and his operation is so small potatoes for the majority of the film. Yeah, it's more than I could ever do and there is a little bit of a suspension of disbelief to understand how many gifts he gets delivered in such a small time. But it also seems half-and-half plausible that two guys could pull off a plan like the one presented in the movie.
I think the reason that I'm not that interested in Jesper is, despite the fact that I really like him, he's a little bit of a trope. It was weird when I saw that Jason Schwartzman was voicing him because I could have sworn that it was David Spade. And do you know why I thought it was David Spade (in tandem with the fact that Schwartzman kind of sounds like David Spade throughout)? It's because he's doing Kuzco throughout. The dynamic between Jesper and Klaus is just Kuzco and Pacha. I'm sorry to ruin everyone's day like that. I know. It's heartbreaking to get the rug pulled out from you so quickly, but it's the truth. If there's one thing that I am, it's a truth teller. After I just wrote this paragraph, I Googled it. I'm not the only one who has made the comparison.
And that honesty is that the framing narrative of it all is the same quest that is presented in The Emperor's New Groove. Jesper is a narcissist who is taught humility by being around the gentle-giant that is Klaus / Pacha. Now, I adore The Emperor's New Groove. It might be the most overlooked Disney film of all time. Well, either this or The Great Mouse Detective. But I've seen that story before. I like that story. It's why I'm very forgiving of that story. But it's simply a framing device to get to Klaus. So why even have Jesper? After all, I was preaching about how the movie brings to life the idea that Santa Claus is more than simply good for goodness' sake. (Allusion intended, and I'm proud of it.)
I think that Jesper only reaffirms the message that it isn't up to Santa to be a good man. Once Klaus has found his mission, we know that he's going to follow through with it. The movie becomes about how the individual beats are going to happen. Since Santa is so well known, it's almost a little unfair to have a movie about him because all of the fenceposts are visible from the distance. Jesper, however, is a wild-card. Yeah, we know that he's going to be redeemed. But we also don't know how he's going to be invested in the whole thing. His narrative isn't technically written, besides the fact that it was The Emperor's New Groove. There are times in the movie where I honestly thought that Jesper was going to be a co-Santa Claus throughout history. I still don't hate that idea and someone should make that movie.
But it's also a lot to constantly focus on Klaus. Klaus works in this movie because of the mystery he presents throughout. He's a man with a hidden past. I don't mean to comment on weight and size, especially of a fictional cartoon character, but he's a boulder running downhill. He's only going to gain speed. There's only so much that you can do with a character like Klaus and still make him satisfying. Instead, Jesper has to personify all of the internal conflicts that come from Klaus. He's a good man who has doubts, but no one wants to hear that from Santa. Instead, we have Jesper voicing all of those issues and Klaus simply moving forward. It works.
I know. It seems like we are straying farther and farther away from conventional Christmas stories. But Klaus has an amazing message. It reminds us that saints are among us. They aren't always perfect. They aren't always charismatic. But we are all called to be saints. Do I wish that Klaus was the real St. Nicholas? Totally. But this is a nice second place trophy.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.