I don’t usually look forward to Christmas movies. I had a Chinese-Buddhist upbringing, which meant we often consume our sentimental festive pop-culture content during Chinese New Year. No such thing as staying up to catch a glimpse of Santa – instead, on CNY eve, we stay up cooking our eyes with incense smoke to do prayers for Caishen (the God of Wealth). Good times.
So no: the Spirit of Christmas never inhabited me, and as such I’ve only ever muttered humbug at every Christmas-themed movie that passes my way (except for Home Alone. Or Arthur Christmas). But there’s something else this year. That something is SPA Studios’ Klaus, which will be dropping down the chimney of Netflix in the next 24 hours or so.
The thing to note about Klaus is that it’s hand-drawn. I’m not kidding. You may be forgiven for mistaking it as computer generated (CG), given how polished it looks. But this is indeed the elusive hand-drawn animated feature, now taken to new heights through the application of digital technology with a traditional approach.
There have been instances where CG animation is made to look like it is hand-drawn (Disney’s Paperman and Feast shorts being an example). Klaus, however, goes in a different direction by giving hand-drawn animation the smoothness and lighting details of CG, but with movements and expressions that has that distinctive, organic hand-drawn charm.
The idea, in the end, is to take traditional animation to the next level. In an interview with Cartoon Brew, Klaus’ director Sergio Pablos said:
“What we set off to do was to overcome some of the technical limitations that traditional animation had. We focused on organic, volumetric lighting, and texturing. If the end result ends up looking to some like CGI, that’s an unintentional side effect. The goal was to develop tools that eventually allowed us to put any visual development style on the screen.”
Pablos certainly knows a lot about traditional animation, having animated Disney renaissance films that include The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules before supervising character animation for Tantor in Tarzan and Dr Doppler in Treasure Planet. He eventually moved back to Spain and launched SPA Studios, which provides pre-production and production support to feature productions.
More notably, Pablos originated the concept for Illumination Animation’s master franchise, Despicable Me.
Like Despicable Me, Klaus seems like it carries the same trajectory of an apathetic, jerk-ass protagonist who discovers kindness and goodness along the way. The story centres around Jesper, an uncaring postal worker who is stationed on a frozen island above the Arctic Circle, whereupon he discovers the mysterious Klaus, a lonesome maker of handmade toys. An unlikely partnership is formed, as is the origin stories of one Santa Claus. And yes, of course, this is a Christmas movie.
I’m equally excited about the voice cast as well, which features Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim vs The World, every Wes Anderson production) as Jesper, J.K Simmons (Whiplash, J. Jonah Jameson) as Klaus, and Rashida Jones (Karen from The Office) as Alva the schoolteacher, an unlikely ally to the duo.
I’ve never asked for anything for Christmas, and I’ve been asking for Klaus ever since I saw the teaser Pablos shared, way before Netflix picked up the rights. I guess Christmas wishes do come true.
Also published on Medium.