Klaus” is an animated movie that starts with a standard plot device of a spoiled rich boy who is sent to an out of the way location by his father. He is informed he is going to be the postman of a small town on a small island called Smeerensberg. His father says he must deliver 6000 letters in a twelve month period or he will find himself cut off and destitute.
But Smeerensberg isn’t just any little town. Jesper, the young man, arrives to find a run down place where two opposing families have been feuding for generations. He is tricked by the ferryman who takes him there into ringing a bell in the middle of the square, only to find that this bell is the signal for the two families to come out and start a free for all. He first takes shelter in the ‘school’, where he meets the school teacher who has taken to selling fish because none of the children attend school. The audience learns that they, like their parents, are far too busy feuding to learn anything. Finally Jesper finds the post office, which is a ruin. No one sends letters, because they are too busy feuding. Given the state of education there, it would be reasonable to assume the population might have a literacy problem.
This does not seem like an encouraging start to a Christmas story, but as it turns out, it’s a perfect setting. It’s about how loving kindness can become infectious, and spread. The story is told with a great deal of humour, and the drawing and colour of the places and characters is indicative of the difference in people’s characters. The town, for example, is originally seen wreathed in fog, and is almost entirely grey. All the buildings and characters are drawn with sharp angles and points, signifying the anger and unhappiness that the town exudes. As a contrast, the first thing you notice about the home of Mr Klaus is that it’s softer and rounder. While Klaus himself isn’t particularly cheerful at the start, at least he isn’t running around attacking his neighbours.
The ‘birth of the legend’, if you like, comes about through a series of coincidences, misunderstandings, and possible divine intervention. (Mysterious breezes at certain moments which blow things in just the right direction become very important.) Mr Klaus is a woodsman, with an axe, much to Jesper’s alarm, assuming he is as violent as everyone else. The only jarring note in this assumption is Jesper’s discovery of the toys Mr Klaus has made. Jesper’s accidental delivery of a child’s drawing to Mr Klaus (courtesy of the aforementioned magical breeze) inspires Klaus to give the child one of his toys. Children talk, and suddenly all of the kids want to send a letter to Mr Klaus.
There’s a lot of visual humour to enjoy here. Jesper sneaking around encouraging the children to send letters as if they are contraband (which in this town they are) is rather fun. There are a couple of small moments with a family of rather spooky looking children who look similar to the Addams family.
The happiness of children infects the parents. Hatred is conditioned from generation to generation, and is spoken about as proud tradition. (Prejudice is taught, not innate.) When the children learn to be happy their parents start to be happy too.
There are a few redemption arcs here. Jesper himself starts the story as selfish and lazy. He starts this process of gift-giving solely to make the 6000 letters that will entitle him to leave. But ultimately he discovers friendship, kindness and love, and experiences a true change of heart. The disillusioned schoolteacher has been trying to get out, but she relearns about her love of teaching when the children suddenly realise they must learn to write, in order to write letters to Mr Klaus.
Klaus himself, who has been grieving his dead wife for years, suddenly discovers the joy in giving to other children the toys he originally made for his own. He discovers a purpose for his life.
So it’s a story of hope. The town becomes a place of colour and life, the children laugh and play, and their parents see the error of their ways. The magical ending is sweet – Klaus disappears from the world to become the magical Santa Claus that legend was making him. A line repeated a few times in the film is ‘a true selfless act always sparks another’. This is the theme of the film – love begets love. It’s contagious, and it spreads, beyond their town, and eventually all over the world.
A cliché? Perhaps. But I’ve heard it said that a cliché only becomes a cliché because it is true. “Klaus” is a sweet and lighthearted look at the power of love and kindness to conquer hate, peace to conquer love. In the world we live in, rent with so many divisions, find time to sit down and watch this lesson, delivered with grace and humour. Enjoy “Klaus” with your family – a joyous and delightful film about Christmas and about life.