Boy, do I have some mixed feelings about the monolith Netflix has become. When it was nothing but a by-mail online video store, I loved it. The selection was great. If it was on disc, you could most likely rent it! Of course, then Netflix birthed the modern streaming revolution, completely changing the way most people watch TV and movies... And bleeding their by-mail service practically to death in the process, not to mention spawning a hundred equally pricey rival services. Now Netflix only cares about pimping their original films and shows, their actual selection of movies suffering in comparison. And Netflix isn't even good at promoting their original content half the time. Their big 2019 Christmas release, “Klaus,” has gone largely overlooked. Yet a high profile traditional animated holiday movie sure wasn't going to get by me!
“Klaus” is another film that attempts to offer a definitive origin for the mythical figure of Santa Claus. Jasper is the spoiled son of the local post office empire. His dad forced him to join the post office academy, which he's been trying to flunk out of. Instead of getting his wish, his father assigns him to Smeerenburg, an obscure island community currently torn in two by warring rival factions. Through chance, the reluctant mailman meets Klaus, a solitary toymaker living in the woods. After one toy is delivered, the children of Smeerenburg start to send letters to Klaus to receive more presents. Jasper and Klaus hatch a plan to bring toys to the entire community.
Sadly, its gorgeous visuals are about the only thing “Klaus” really has going for it. It's almost as if Pablos and his team wanted to compensate for “Klaus'” quasi-experimental look by making the script as bland as possible. Every beat of the plot is totally predictable. You know immediately that Jasper will discover the true meaning of friendship. That the school teacher-turned-fish-monger will become his love interest. Even Klaus' tragic backstory can be easily inferred. A plot twist involving a sack of presents is especially asinine. The film piles on the broad humor throughout. The warring factions in town produce lots of wacky slapstick, much of which is very overdone. Jasper's comedic comeuppance for being a jerk produces only sighs. There's even some regrettable needle drops on the soundtrack.
“Klaus” doesn't just resemble an older Dreamworks movie in quality of its writing Its voice cast is loaded with well-known movie stars chosen for their name value. Jason Schwartzman is playing very to-type as Jasper, J.K. Simmons disappointingly underplays it as Santa, with Joan Cusack and Will Sasso overdoing it as the bad guys. It's a bummer that “Klaus” couldn't pair its gorgeous visuals with a touching or insightful script. I guess that shouldn't come as a surprise, considering how mediocre the “Despicable Me” movies are. Hopefully, for his next picture, the director can lend these impressive visuals with a story truly worth telling. “Klaus” is no modern holiday classic, worth seeing for its animation but quickly forgotten otherwise. [6/10]
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
As I've said in the past, the Muppets and Christmas are irrevocably intertwined in my mind. This is an association Jim Henson's company has hardly resisted, as his felt creations have appeared in countless holiday specials over the years. Nearly a full decade after “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together,” a new Muppet Christmas special would premiere on ABC. “A Muppet Family Christmas” has Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the gang surprising Fozzie's mom by stopping by unexpectedly at her country cabin for the holidays. They soon bring with them even more guests, crowding the house even more. The special's admittedly loose plot is mostly strung along over Kermit's concern for Miss Piggy, who is traveling to the cabin through a blizzard.
To Muppet fanatics, “A Muppet Family Christmas” is most valuable for being a crossover between the different Henson creations. Doc, the human host of “Fraggle Rock,” is also staying at Mama Fozzie Bear's cabin. Later, Kermit and Robin crawl inside a cave in the basement, meeting the rest of the Fraggles and introducing them to the idea of Christmas. The Sesame Street gang shows up half-way through the special. This leads to some highly amusing gags, where Burt and Ernie reveal they speak in educational exchanges all the time. Or Oscar the Grouch finding an unlikely alley in Rizzo the Rat. The Muppet Babies even appear, in live action, via a home movie from the gang's days-in-diapers. Though Henson provides a number of voices – which becomes very noticeable when everyone is interacting like this – he appears in the flesh near the end.
In other words, “A Muppet Family Christmas” is required viewing for fans of these characters. The special has been released on home video. However, because of the conflicting rights over the various shows and songs, a number of sequence have been removed from the DVD. Luckily, the complete version circulates in okay quality around the internet, for you Muppet completest out there. I think it'll make a good edition to anyone's holiday movie marathon. [7/10]