When it comes to the best Christmas movies, everybody has their go-to standbys and personal favorites. A simple Google Search tells you as much, with everything from Miracle on 34th Street to Elf and It’s A Wonderful Life consistently topping almost any list of Christmas movies that stand up to repeat viewing with the family each year. But among the many titles that don’t get enough love, if you ask me, is Netflix’s Klaus — a gorgeous animated gem from director Sergio Pablos, who’s better known as the creator of the Despicable Me franchise.
The movie, Netflix’s first animated feature which was released just ahead of Christmas back in 2019, remains one of the best-reviewed of the genre on Rotten Tomatoes four years later. Klaus still holds a near-perfect 95% critics’ score, as well as a 96% audience score based on more than 2,500 user ratings. It’s also pretty original as far as Christmas movies go, without a hackneyed romance like so many of the holiday films and TV shows on Netflix and elsewhere (Hallmark, I’m looking at you).
The story in Klaus (which has a storybook animation aesthetic that I cannot get enough of) involves a character named Jesper who’s managed to distinguish himself as the worst student in the postal academy. As such, he’s sent out to a frozen island above the Arctic Circle where he eventually gets befriended by a local teacher. That’s where he also eventually discovers “Klaus,” a carpenter who lives by himself in a cabin full of handmade toys.
From there, some unlikely friendships return laughter to the island and foster a new legacy of, as Netflix explains it, “generous neighbors, magical lore and stockings hung by the chimney with care.”
“One of the rules we set for ourselves was — this is a Christmas movie, but let’s not make this about saving Christmas,” Pablos told me back in 2019. “Whatever we do! We decided to just make a film about the Christmas spirit and frame it in terms of ‘kindness is contagious’ and try to show that to the audience in the most entertaining way.”
“Instant classic” was the kind of phrase you saw a lot attached to Klaus when it first came out. The streaming giant has since shaken up its animation division, cancelling pictures and foreshadowing more job cuts. But Klaus still holds up years after its release, and it’s a great film to turn to if you’re looking for something other than the same old Christmas movies that everyone watches on a yearly basis.
“I thought that would be the biggest trap to fall into, to make it way too corny of a film,” Pablos told me. “So, it’s — how do I avoid that while still making it heartfelt. And that’s when I found the angle of making Santa not my main character but maybe a symbol for altruism.
“And the more I played with the dynamics and the irony — what if the actions of Santa came about through the actions of the worst human being I could conceive — the heart, emotion, and comedy was there. Little by little, I found that all the elements I look for in a film were in this thing, and that’s why I decided to go forward with it.”