Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
It’s not surprising that director and co-writer Sergio Pablos used to work for Walt Disney Animation during the 90’s because there are sequences in this film that feel ripped straight from a Disney movie. There is, in fact, a sequence here that feels like a shot-for-shot rip from Beauty and the Beast (1991). If anyone remembers the scene in that 1991 Oscar-winner where Belle enters the home of the Beast, being scared by him as he skulks in the shadows before revealing himself, that scene is replicated nearly beat-for-beat here. Like in Beauty and the Beast, there is this juxtaposition of a small character interacting with a significantly larger one. Beauty and the Beast was a love story, a romantic love story. This film is a love story too, but not a romantic one. It’s that of a friendship between two men. The animation here is just as amazing as the animation from nearly 30 years ago. If anything, it might be better. The designs and colors are really sumptuous.
Essentially, this is an origin story for Santa Claus. In reality, the myth of Santa Claus was the result of various European cultures growing traditions inspired by Saint Nicholas. Pablos’ film supposes that the religious origin was removed and instead the story of Santa Claus was simplified as being the result of a postman and a woodsman trying to enrich their lives. It’s as concise and straight-forward an explanation for the myth of Santa Claus that I’ve ever seen. It’s fun and funny and a nice film to watch around this time of the year.
Jason Schwartzman voices Jesper, a postman at the Royal Postal Academy, an organization run like a military academy. Jesper slacks off because he’s the son of the postmaster. He’s privileged and pampered. He’s also a bit lazy and prefers living in the lap of luxury. His father gets annoyed with his son’s laziness, so he decides to send Jesper on a difficult assignment with the hopes of whipping his son in shape.
He’s sent to Smeerensburg, a town on an island in the Arctic Ocean, very close to the North Pole. When he gets there, he finds that the people who live in the town don’t use the postal service. Since Jesper’s father told him he won’t get to live in luxury unless he delivers 6,000 letters, Jesper is worried that he’ll be poor forever. He has to figure out a way to get people to use the postal service, but he doesn’t know how. On top of that, the town consists of people who are descendants of two warring families. Pablos’ inclusion of this plot line involving these two warring families is probably the weakest thing of this film. It perhaps adds a metaphorical layer that could be applied to our modern and particularly political times. It perhaps exists to inject some action into this film and some background comedy of these Nordic Hatfields & McCoys, but they ultimately become meaningless.
J. K. Simmons voices Klaus, an old man who is very large and who has a long white beard. He lives alone as a widower who is a carpenter that specializes in making toys. Pealing back the layers of this guy is good and empathetic. The relationship he develops with Jesper is good. It comes to a crossroads that didn’t feel totally convincing. It comes down to a decision of whether or not a character will stay in Smeerensburg or leave it. There’s the obvious way the film is leaning, but it never makes an overly convincing argument as to why the characters choose what they choose. It basically just comes down to inertia.
I did enjoy the pop song at the end. “Invisible” by Zara Larsson is the name of the track and it’s a catchy tune.
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.