Food: This weekend, my roommates and I tried a local East Village Italian spot, Joe and Pat’s, that had long been on our list. After waiting an hour and a half (if you can abide by the strict reservation guidelines, that is definitely the way to go), we were seated in a cozy spot near the back. Like any good Italian restaurant, they brought out complimentary bread (with butter or olive oil), and to share, we ordered a simple ceasar salad to start. For my main dish, I got the Gnocchi made with zucchini in a light blush sauce and it was one of the freshest, most delectable pastas I have had in a very long time. I never knew I liked zucchini so much!!! My roommates got the Nonna’s Lasagna and the Chicken Parmigiano over spaghetti, and both were equally as satisfied as I was. We were all in Heaven and highly recommend going to this spot.
Film: “Klaus” is one of the newest additions to Netflix’s slew of holiday content, making it easy to get lost in the mix of Hallmark level unimpressive festive fodder. However, this film is worth spotting, watching and recognizing as one of the better animated films to hit the screen this year.
Director, Sergio Pablos, who is also the animator, is most well known for the original “Despicable Me” (after spending the 90’s working on more classical projects like “A Goofy Movie” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” He chose to create “Klaus” using state-of-the-art 2D animation, meaning it was hand-drawn, but brought to life with CG features. Initially, I was turned off by the aesthetic, but throughout the film, it grew on me because it has a magical pop-up storybook quality that is unlike anything I have seen in animated film quite yet. This style is a risk, but a game changer in a more nostalgic heavy medium. Pablos succeeds in showcasing the ways that 2D animation can still be operative, but improved upon, as opposed to being a revived thing of the past. He feels it can hold its own as a visual medium, competing with 3D, by incorporating what works about 2D with new technology, and finding a less limited version.
The film starts out with our lead character soaking obnoxiously in an ornate bath tub. He is the spoiled son of a post office mogul who goes by the name Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), and shares a welcome likeness to David Spade’s Emperor Kuzco in “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Jesper takes full advantage of his luxurious lifestyle, taking Paris Hilton’s advice from “The Simple Life” (yes, I’m going there), and abides by the philosophy “If someone asks you to do something, do it really bad, so you never have to do it again.” His father, head of the Royal Mail Academy, sees through his antics and forces him to a situation that he cannot lazily weasel his way around. He sends Jesper to be the mailman in a nearly deserted town with the challenge to get 6,000 letters sent by the end of the year, or he will lose his inheritance.
After being toured around the town by the comical ferry operator named Mogens (Norm MacDonald), Jesper pouts his way through the desolated place called Smeerensburg, where everything has a gaunt pallor, the town is rooted in a long history of conflict, and a young teacher has nothing to do but flay fish because none of the children attend school. The directors ideation of this town was founded in a place called Smeerenburg, which was one of the northernmost human settlements in history. It was up in Scandinavia – likely Norway – and used to be a very prosperous whaling post back in the 1600’s. Pablos decided to slightly misspell it on purpose and make it feel like a place of legend.
Accidentally, while milling around trying to accomplish his postal duties, Jesper finds his way atop an abandoned route where an intimidatingly large and eerily quiet man lives alone, in a house full of toys, chopping wood and building bird houses. The man spots a doodle that Jesper had from a child in the town, which depicted a sad young boy alone in his home. Touched by this drawing, the man, who we learn to be named Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) wraps up a package, and orders Jesper to deliver it to the child from which it originated. The child opens the package to find a delightful jumping toy frog signed from Klaus.
Pablos speaks on his choice to make our lead a mailman, saying, “It actually used to be a poor chimney sweep, that was the original story. Then I realized that it didn’t quite take us there. We needed someone who was a bit more selfish, someone who needed to learn the lesson of altruism…the mail serves as a metaphor for communication in the film too.” Jesper being the self-seeker that he is, quickly sees this as an opportunity to con the children of the town into using his postal services to get free toys from the mysterious Klaus, and thus we unfold the origins of the beloved Christmas story we have all grown up on. The tale takes a unique stance in its version, by foregoing the magical elements of the Christmas story, and re-imagining the ways that some of the myths about Santa Klaus came to be, such as flying reindeer or the naughty and nice list. The slightly cynical explanation, ironically, effectively still finds the heart of the holiday, relying on the innocence and optimism that exists within the minds of children to give weight to the sweetness that makes the long-told story work.
Unsurprisingly, participating in these acts of kindness, despite being selfishly motivated, like the Grinch, begins to melt Jesper’s icy heart. With a slew of heartfelt characters, including Alva (Rashida Jones) and a group of non-English speaking natives, endearing bonds are formed. The natives, known as the Sámi people, came from research on indigenous groups living in northern parts of the world (primarily Norway and Sweden). Adding authenticity to the character, the girl who voices Margu, the little Sámi girl who plays an integral role in the arc of Jespers transformation, is an actor named Neda Margrethe Labba from Tromsø, Norway, who only speaks Sámi in real life.
The story evolves with a sequence of predictable, but amusing plot developments, spawned by some gloriously evil townies (Joan Cusack and Will Sasso), and irresistibly pulls at your heart strings. “Klaus” succeeds at bringing a fresh Christmas classic with stunning animation which will likely become an oft-watched seasonal go-to. “Klaus” should be added to every Christmas movie list, and enjoyed by the tree with the whole family. Thoroughly impressive.
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