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Western Animation / Klaus (2019)

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"A true selfless act always sparks another."

Klaus is a 2019 animated Christmas film directed by Sergio Pablos (best known for creating the Despicable Me franchise, and as the supervising animator of Dr. Delbert Doppler and Tantor) which serves as an origin story for Santa Claus. It's the first feature film to be produced by Pablos's homegrown studio, Sergio Pablos Animationnote  in Madrid and stars the voices of Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso and Norm Macdonald.

Selfish, lazy Jesper Johanssen (Schwartzman) is the worst student at the postman's academy, constantly sabotaging himself and trying as little as possible so he can keep relaxing on his father's dime. His father, who also happens to be the postmaster general and the dean of the academy, eventually gives Jesper an ultimatum: deliver six thousand letters in a year or be cut off from his family's finances forever. He assigns Jesper to the small, dreary North Pole town of Smeerensburg, which is populated near-entirely by two families who have been feuding for as long as either can remember and, therefore, have little interest in sending each other letters. On his failed postal route, Jesper meets Klaus (Simmons), a reclusive woodsman with a knack for building wooden toys and the two quickly learn that they'll not only be able to help one another out, but bring some much-needed happiness back to a town that desperately needs it.

The film is notable for its groundbreaking visual style, which applies realistic shading and volumetric lighting to "paperless" hand-drawn animation, giving 2D drawings a distinctly 3-dimensional look (sort of an inversion of Paperman's technique). According to Pablos, he believed that 2D feature animation had gone out of style largely because it hadn't progressed much since digital ink-and-paint, which could only make characters look like stickers pasted onto backgrounds and paled in comparison to CGI. Inversely, he believed CGI was becoming old hat, as there was no further ground to break once it had achieved the utmost photorealism. This new technique was his studio's way of not only integrating the 2D characters into 3D environments better, but also keeping hand-drawn animation alive while allowing it to progress technologically into the 21st century.

A "proof of concept" teaser was released in 2015, with the finished film premiering on Netflix four years later on November 15th, 2019 after a limited theatrical release a week earlier.

Klaus provides examples of:

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: While the majority of the movie is hand-drawn on tablet with computer-aided lighting and texturing, certain objects and characters like Jesper's wagon and some of the reindeer are 3D models, lit the same way as the 2D characters to blend in seamlessly.
  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time Norm Macdonald has played the snarky foil to a taller, more effeminate character.
  • An Aesop: As Klaus says himself, "A true selfless act always sparks another".
  • The Alleged House: Jesper's post office looks more like an abandoned, crumbling shack.
  • All There in the Manual: The production notes name Jesper's hometown as Isaksdal.
  • Amusing Injuries:
    • The children's pranks on the old man in his rocking chair would be lethal in real life but are treated as funny moments in the film.
    • Jesper is subjected to a conga line of these: being attacked by farm animals, getting spring-boarded into a chimney by Klaus, falling from roofs, being shot out of a chimney by triggering fireworks, being kicked out the window, Rump Roast, you name it.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Jesper encounters two of them when trespassing on the Krum father's property.
  • Appeal to Tradition: The Krums and Ellingboes are feuding because... well, they've always been feuding. No one knows who or what started it, but it's a long and proud tradition (going at least as far back as the Stone Age) and they must make their ancestors proud! Mrs. Krum is the staunchest supporter of this.
  • Arc Words: "A true act of goodwill always sparks another."
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Klaus's late wife Lydia remains as a mystical presence around their home as the magical wind that sometimes guides Klaus to where he needs to go. Klaus himself is implied to have gone the same way at the end and, in the process, become the magical figure of Santa Claus to continue the tradition of Christmas Eve gift deliveries he and Jesper started.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Invisible", the film's theme by Zara Larsson.
  • Babies Ever After: Jesper and Alva end up married with two children, although the kids' young ages and Jesper's greying hair in the finale suggest they didn't settle down right away.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: The Krum father builds his son a play fort and allows the Ellingboe sisters to come over because, not too long ago, they took good care of him when he broke his leg.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mogens teases Jesper that this might be sparking between Jesper and Alva after the latter manhandles the postman for daring to send children her way. The two really only start to build a connection once Alva is in a happier place as a successful teacher and Jesper himself changes trajectory to become a more giving person.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • The ax-crazy Krum father takes a shot at Jesper but Klaus, coming out of nowhere, pulls the latter out of the bullet's way.
    • Jesper attempts this in the climax when trying to get control of the bag of presents. It doesn't work out as planned.
  • Big "NO!": Jesper when the bag with the presents falls off the cliff.
  • Big "WHY?!": Jesper, as he is launched airborne towards the Krum family's chimney.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: When Jesper talks to Márgu, he speaks English and she in Saami.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jesper and Klaus continue working together, making and sending toys, but as the years go by, Klaus grows old and eventually joins his wife in the afterlife, and is implied to be continuing his tradition of Christmas gift deliveries. The last scene is Jesper, now a father, quietly waiting in the living room by the fire on Christmas Eve, a tray of cookies and two glasses of milk poured, because "Once a year... I get to see my friend" as sleigh bells ring... and the credits roll.
  • Black Comedy:
    • The Krum sisters slowly and deliberately stabbing their agonized snowman. ...using carrots as shivs.
    • The two Krum women who carry what we can presume to be a dead body.
    • Jesper assumes the package Klaus wants him to deliver to the little boy is a severed head.
    • Whilst trying to make a proposition with Klaus, he hands Jesper what appears to be a noose. For a moment, Jesper thinks Klaus is going to hang him. He doesn't: he just wants to hang his birdhouse.
    • Earlier than that, the rope for the town square's "battle bell" is tied into what appears to actually be a noose.
  • Blatant Lies: Jesper tells Klaus that the children started writing letters to Klaus for toys "completely unprompted".
  • Blunt "Yes": When Jesper's father asks him sarcastically whether he should just let him purposely fail his postman assignment and let him "waltz right back to his privileged life void of any meaning or purpose", Jesper responds with "Well, yeah."
  • Boastful Rap: After his Scare 'Em Straight speech to the bratty Ellingboe kid, Jesper cocks the peak of his cap and struts back to his Post Office like a boss, complete with accompaniment:
    Why you have to go and mess with the postman?
    Don't you know you shouldn't mess with the postman?
    That's what you get when you mess with the postman!
  • Book Ends:
    • Our story begins with Jesper reclined in a chair whilst he lazes about, and it ends with him also reclining in a chair, but with the purpose of waiting for his friend.
    • The first time before he meets him, Jesper peers through the window into Klaus's home. Shortly after Klaus's mysterious disappearance, Jesper peers through the same window looking for him.
    • The first time we hear the Battle Bell marks the first time we witness the Krums and the Ellingboes fighting. The last time we hear a bell ringing, it's during Pumpkin and Olaf's wedding, marking the end of the family feud.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • When first meeting Márgu and hearing her talk, Jesper rather tactlessly asks, "What's wrong with her mouth?" not realizing she's speaking Saami. In the Norwegian dub, he instead simply asks "What is she saying?", as making this remark about the country's indigenous population would come across as much crueler than when an English-speaking person would say it.
    • The "Great Mooning of '86" that Mr. Ellingboe speaks of ended up being displayed as a woodwork artifact.
  • Bridal Carry: A gender-swapped example when freshly-wed Pumpkin carrying her groom Olaf down the stairs of the church.
  • Bucket Helmet: Jesper wears a pot on his head for armor at his post office while fearfully waiting for Klaus to come and kill him.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: An interesting variant. Jesper needs to deliver 6,000 letters in order to prove himself and go home to his previous life of luxury. However, any time a chance to explain his motive to another potentially sympathetic character comes up, he cuts himself off out of embarrassment over how petty it would make him sound.
  • Character Development: Jesper starts out as a Spoiled Brat who continuously slacks off during training at the academy, but over the course of the film he transforms into a better person through his friendship with Klaus.
  • Chase Scene: Ensues when Jesper and Klaus try to escape the Krums and Ellingboes with the sled full of presents.
  • Children Are Innocent: The children of Smeerensberg don't care for the eternal feud and are happy to play with each other.
  • Chimney Entry: Jesper enters houses via the chimney in order to deliver presents secretly. It becomes a trademark.
  • Close on Title: The audience doesn't see the title until the very end, after Jesper narrates that Christmas Eve is the one time of the year he gets to see Klaus's spirit.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Krums have black hair and dress in cool greens and blues, while Ellingboes have red hair and dress in warm browns and reds. Notably, people outside the feud, like Jesper, Alva and the Saami, are blonds, and the Saami wear vibrant reds and blues and are far happier than the townsfolk.
  • Conflict Ball: After his less than selfless motivations are revealed, Jesper's friends are furious with him and remain so for a while. The only problem with this is that Jesper always stopped just shy of standing on the rooftops screaming that he wanted out of town and why, and when Klaus asked what was in it for him, didn't indicate otherwise. It's more than a little hypocritical on Alva's part, as she came into the film hostile, bitter, and doing everything in her power to get out of town (though at the very least, Alva still did honest work while Jesper manipulated children).
  • Conspicuously Light Patch: Very uniquely averted. The film's art style is done in a way so that all the background plates are shaded and textured exactly the same way as the foreground elements, thus making every environment look much more visually cohesive and vivid than most 2D animated films as a result.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Krum father has the front door of his house locked up with dozens of locks.
  • Creepy Child: The little girl who always stares at Jesper as she slides a sharpened carrot into a snowman - even with the nose it's creepy!
  • Creepy Cockroach: Jesper gets scared by a cockroach crawling about a wooden doll at Klaus' house.
  • Death by Adaptation: In this version of the Santa Claus myth, Mrs. Claus (or "Lydia") is a Posthumous Character who died before the events of the film.
  • Decomposite Character: Ultimately in the film, before Klaus dies, Klaus and Jesper both bring together aspects of the Santa Claus mythos that audiences are familiar with. Jesper is a postman and thus brings the aspect of delivering the presents, complete with the chimney route and eating cookies and milk. He sources the idea of writing to the Santa figure and asking for presents as well as the promise of presents should the children behave. He also comes up with the iconic Naughty List, bringing coal to naughty children, and the idea that Santa is "always watching." As well as this, he provides the initial sleigh. Klaus forms the iconic aesthetic of Santa; overweight, white-haired and bearded. Furthered when the Sami dress him in red. He also is the iconic toymaker with the "ho ho ho" laugh. He also insists upon delivering the gifts in the dead of night and adds his own reindeer to Jesper's cart (later sleigh).
  • Detail-Hogging Cover: Averting this with the help of current technology was Pablos's intention for the film, as every frame features the same amount of shading and texturing as you would see in promotional material and concept art.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Jesper shadily asking children if they want a toy (and secretly passing on the pencil and paper they need to send Klaus letters) bears a resemblance to a drug dealer.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The film deliberately sets out to provide a mundane explanation for all the aspects that would eventually become part of the 'Santa Claus' mythology. Never seeing Santa when he delivers the presents and leaving out cookies and milk for him is because Jesper is very good at sneaking around due to his postman training and got peckish; Santa coming down the chimney is because chimneys are often the only way to actually get inside the heavily fortified houses in Smeerensburg; the coal-in-the-stocking and the 'naughty list' are created on the spot to scare a young bully who's been a real brat; the flying reindeer come from a half-asleep kid seeing the wagon (later sleigh) actually in the middle of crashing; Santa's helpers are the grateful Sámi rather than elves. The only really magical/supernatural parts are Klaus's wife (apparently) staying with him in the form of the wind, Klaus joining her in the afterlife and whatever happened to enable Klaus to return every Christmas Eve to deliver gifts.
  • Double Take: When Alva sees a bunch of kids at her shop (who want to learn to write). She continues brushing her teeth until the realisation hits her and she turns around.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Downplayed. Jesper is quite miffed, at first, to see the children praising Klaus, but not giving him any credit for delivering the toys Klaus makes. (Think about how real mail carriers feel during the holidays.) However, before he's even done listening to the montage, he becomes amused by the supernatural elements, and bonds with Klaus by describing them to him.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The first toy that Jesper delivers, the pull-string frog for the Krum boy, can be seen in very faint silhouette after Jesper first stumbles into Klaus's barn.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The proof-of-concept trailer from around 2015 hadn't established the family feuds angle for Smeerensburg, or Jesper's final character, as the postman in that trailer has a much more posh and older-sounding voice. Looks-wise, Jesper pretty much looks the same, but Klaus had a distinctly different design.
  • End of an Age: The Krum-Ellingboe feud being replaced with the tradition of Klaus delivering presents is essentially this for Mrs. Krum, Mr. Ellingboe and their remaining followers.
  • Enemy Mine: The leading Krums and Ellingboes call a truce to take down both Jesper and Klaus.
  • Everybody Has Standards:
    • The Drill Sergeant Nasty who trains the postmen might be all for discipline, but even he thinks sending Jesper to Smeerensburg was a bit much.
    • Despite Mogens enjoying watching every postman suffering in Smeerensburg, he seems a bit concerned about Jesper's depression towards leaving the town and indirectly inspires his father to talk to him.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The leading Ellingboes and Krums can't understand why everyone is getting along now, since they can't understand how Good Feels Good.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Jesper is not bothered by low temperatures as we see him casually wearing a thin shirt out in the cold. He also survives sleeping in the unheated post office with just a blanket covering him.
  • Failure Gambit: Jesper deliberately fails his postman training in the hopes to get this in the form of being expelled and going back home to enjoy a frivolous life under his father's back. This fails as Johanssen catches up with his plan and gives him an ultimatum.
  • Failure Montage:
    • A short montage is shown of Jesper purposely failing his postman training as his instructor reports Jesper's performance to Johanssen.
    • A lengthy montage of Jesper trying (but failing) to deliver presents to the town.
    • Another one of Jesper failing to catch reindeer for the sled.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: The gift bag full of firewood.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The fictional world of the story seems to be based on 1800s Scandinavia. Jesper Johansen is a common Danish and, to a slightly lesser degree, Norwegian name. Jesper's hometown and supposed civilization compared to Smeerensburg maps pretty well to how Denmark was viewed at the time as a center of civilization and learning compared to the backwater subject state of Norway. Smeerensburg, an island far to the north, compares pretty well to Svalbard, a Norwegian island so far of the northern coast that it barely counts as Norway.
    • Averted by Márgu and her family, who are explicitly identified as Saami.
  • Fat and Skinny:
    • Out of the two main characters, Jesper is a skinny postman, whereas Klaus is a large, burly toymaker.
    • The thin as a rail Mrs. Krum and the obese Mr. Ellingboe are a villainous example.
  • Faux Horrific: When the Krums and Ellingboes find their children playing with each other, they respond like this.
  • Feuding Families: This is the main reason Smeerensburg is the way it is. The Krums and the Ellingboes have hated each other for millennia and fighting one another, every single day, has integrated into the town's culture.
  • The Final Temptation: Towards the end, Jesper is offered his life back at the castle... with Breakfast in Bed and silk sheets. He eventually rejects the offer to pursue a more fulfilling life in Smeerensburg.
  • Finger in the Mail: Discussed. When Klaus forces Jesper to deliver a bulky package to a house, the latter thinks it must be a severed head.
  • Flower-Pot Drop: One woman at Smeerensburg is seen dropping flowerpots from her balcony on pedestrians from the opposite faction. She keeps a Kill Tally for her hits. Her current count is 15.
  • Foil: The Krums and the Ellingboes are two people garbed in blue and red who hate each other. Klaus (who eventually wears red) and Jesper (who wears a blue uniform) are good friends.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • A blink-and-you'll-miss-it example, but when Pumpkin and Olaf first meet Jesper, they handle him very roughly, and on their parents' coaching, they show him off like a random stick or bug they found on the ground. When Jesper angrily declares that this is no way to treat a person, Pumpkin gingerly places his hat back on his head and even straightens it when it gets crooked. It shows that the kids mostly act badly from their parents' bad example, but when shown a better way, they're willing to treat people more nicely. This foreshadows their better behavior when they're led to believe Santa only brings toys to good kids.
    • Another blink-and-you'll-miss-it example is when Jesper is walking into Klaus's house for the first time he passes his light through a shelf filled with toys. At the end of the shot, the light is still espoused on one of them: a wind-up frog toy. This wind-up frog toy would end up becoming the first gift Klaus wraps up and sends to a child not long after, leading to other kids sending letters to Klaus.
    • If you listen carefully, during Jesper and Klaus's first ride using reindeer to pull the wagon, you can hear the latter almost slip into his traditional "ho ho ho" laugh.
    • When Jesper comes back to help save the kids' Christmas gifts from the remaining feuders, notice that the reindeer aren't attached to the sled when he attempts to make a getaway with them. This sets up the reveal that the alleged bag of "gifts" was actually firewood wrapped in paper because Alva and Klaus knew ahead of time that they would get attacked by the feuders.
  • Forever War: The Krums and Ellingboes have been fighting since caveman times.
  • For Want of a Nail:
    • Mogens at one point pokes his head through the window of Jesper's office to verbally torment him, as the latter failed to deliver a single letter since he came. Flowing through the open window, a gust of wind blows the folded-over corner of Jesper's shabby map of Smeerensburg. Using a broom, he flattens the corner, revealing an isolated structure on the far corner of the island, which Mogens explains to be the home of the woodsman (Klaus) and dares Jasper to visit him. Jasper brings the Krum kid's drawing he took with him, which Klaus discovers while driving him out, prompting him to gift the kid with the frog toy. Had Mogens not opened the window, the movie would be a lot shorter.
    • Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe probably would never have taken issue with Jesper and Klaus' toy distribution gig had Jesper not realized one of the deliveries was for an Ellingboe kid that insulted him earlier in the film, making him put coal in his stocking in retaliation and then making up the mythos of the "Naughty List" to intimidate said kid into showing him more respect, which put the idea into the other children's heads that Klaus would reward good deeds with toys and punish bad ones with coal, leading to their parents acting just as altruistically.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Pumpkin and Olaf get hitched very shortly after the events of the main story. In comparison, it takes Jesper and Alva several years to settle down and start a family, though they've had mutual feelings since their first year of knowing each other.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The cave depiction of the Krum-Ellingboe feud that Mrs. Krum keeps has two cavemen from each clan clubbing each other over the head. If one looks closely, the two cavemen make up the shape of a heart, hinting that the feud will end with Olaf and Pumpkin's wedding.
  • Full Moon Silhouette: Downplayed. When the sled with Jesper and Klaus soars through the night sky, the full moon is showing prominently in the background.
  • Funny Background Event: While Jesper is asking why there is no mail to send:
    Mogens: Oh, folks around here only have one thing to say to one another...
    [On the hilltop behind him, one house fires a cannon into the side of another, knocking its entire first story to the side and causing the second to collapse to the ground.]
    Mogens: And they're getting their point across pretty well without mail.
  • Get Out!: Klaus shouts this into Jesper's face after the latter unwittingly pressed his Trauma Button.
  • Ghost Butler: When Jesper enters Klaus' house, the wind shuts the door behind him. The wind is implied to be Klaus' late wife in ghost form.
  • A Glass in the Hand: The Drill Sergeant Nasty early on crushes a cup of espresso in his hand in anger over how Jesper treated him.
  • Go into the Light: Klaus walks towards a bright light when his time has come at the end.
  • Good Feels Good: Jesper's giving one of the children coal because he was bad might have been an act of pettiness, but it encourages the children to be good for their gifts. This snowballs into them being good because they want to be, which sparks kindness in their parents that metaphorically and literally tears down the barriers between the townsfolk.
  • Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: During the Failure Montage at the postman training camp, Jesper releases a carrier pigeon with a heavy package tied to its leg. The bird manages to stay in the air for quite a while before tanking like a bomb.
  • Grim Up North: Frozen, buried-in-snow Smeerensburg is on an island far, far in the north, according to the map Jesper's father provides.
  • Handshake Refusal: When Jesper tries to properly introduce himself to Klaus the day after their initial encounter, he reaches out with his hand but Klaus refuses to shake it and instead breaks a wooden log with his bare hands which makes Jesper produce a Loud Gulp.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: For the Chase Scene, Pumpkin steals a child's tiny sled.
  • Hidden Depths: Even for a feuding town, the residents of Smeerensburg have talents besides being mean and spiteful to one another. Some of them have at least one notable talent, ranging from carpentry to baking to playing good music. They become more apparent as the children do more good deeds.
  • Huge Rider, Tiny Mount:
    • A vehicle variation occurs during the climax. While the rest of the Krums and Ellingboes ride large toboggans to chase after Jesper and Klaus, Mr. Ellingboe's huge daughter Pumpkin can only afford to steal a tiny sled from a small child.
    • While Jesper's wagon (later modified into a sleigh) isn't tiny, it can barely hold the massive Klaus.
  • I Can Explain: Jesper tries this when he gets revealed as having ulterior motives for the letter sending.
  • I Choose to Stay: Alva and Jesper decide near the end to stay in Smeerensburg.
  • "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: When the kids tell Jesper that they cannot write, he drops this line. Cut to the next scene where the kids sit at Alva's place with the intent of asking her for writing lessons.
  • Incorrect Animal Noise: During the first ambush the family heads conduct against Jesper and Klaus, one of the reindeer emits a roar this is a horse's roar.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Jesper sees Alva's photo of the once happy, idealistic graduate she was and wonders aloud "What happened?" While he wasn't talking about her appearance so much as her attitude, even he realizes it sounds insensitive out of context.
    • Also, Jesper would've never made his suggestion to Klaus that he makes a new batch of toys for Christmas if he had known he only made the old batch for the children he and his wife never had, and making toys would only bring back painful memories.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Mogens asks "Are we starting to connect the dots?" when Jesper thinks his postman job is a big prank, just as Jesper asked him this same question earlier.
    • Jesper tells Klaus his philosophy that everyone always wants something, despite what the latter may believe about kindness sparking the good in others. Later, when Jesper's ulterior motives are revealed, Klaus bitterly throws these same words back at him.
  • Irony:
    • Jesper is one of two men who helped change Smeerensburg into a tightly-knit community of kindly neighbors and he's the only one who hasn't taken notice of the change. At least, not until Alva (who has first-hand experienced the changes) shows him Smeerensburg's improved state.
    • After seeing the local Krums and Ellingboes becoming friends due to Jesper and Klaus' deliveries, the family heads did the unthinkable by forming an alliance to preserve their traditional way of hating each other.
      Ellingboe: So, we must join together in peace to help stop this peace?
  • Job Song: See Boastful Rap, above.
  • Kick the Dog: An especially cruel one is pulled off when Mrs. Krum tears open the present bag and sends the presents over the edge of the cliff to spite Jesper and Klaus. Thankfully, those weren't the real presents.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Klaus and his wife wanted a lot of children, but sadly weren't able to have any before she passed on.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Mogens summing up Jesper's predicament for the audience:
    "You're a postman in Smeerensburg, which is on an island cut off from the world, frigid cold, angry, violent neighbors, and this is home now. Are we starting to connect the dots?"
  • Liar Revealed: When Klaus and Alva learn that Jesper only set up the toy delivery system to meet his six thousand letter quota so his father would let him return home, they are understandably furious with him. He only redeems himself in their eyes when he chooses to stay and tries to stop the Krums and Ellingboes from destroying their Christmas morning toy shipment.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Ironically, Mr. Ellingboe and Mrs. Krum behave like this when they're bickering or plotting.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: In Jesper's defense of nearly ruining Klaus and Alva's plan to trick the clans, they never told him about the fake toys, especially since it's likely the kids told Alva about their plans before Jesper's father came.
  • Long Last Look: Discussed. Before attempting to leave the postman boot camp, Jesper notes that he wants to take a long last look at everything so he can forget about it.
  • MacGuffin: Jesper's goal of delivering 6,000 letters.
  • Manly Tears: Klaus is visibly (and barely) suppressing tears when telling Jesper about his late wife Lydia.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Most of the mystical elements of the Santa Claus myth are explained during the movie, such as the flying sleigh pulled by reindeer instead being witnessed by a child in the middle of a crash or the naughty list being made on the spot by Jesper to take revenge on a brat. But there are elements that seem to imply that some real magic is at work, such as the wind acting as Klaus' deceased wife, Lydia, to guide him into helping Jesper's plot or the old man himself disappearing into the snow to seemingly become the true Santa Claus. However, there is no definite proof of magic given in the movie: the wind could very well just be wind that the sad old man interprets as his wife talking to him from beyond the grave and Klaus himself could have simply disappeared into the woods to freeze to death, his corpse never to be found. Even Jesper comments on being able to see his friend every Christmas might be a symbolic way to allude to the tradition of Santa Claus living on long after the old man's death.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • At an earlier point, Jesper explains to Márgu that he doesn't want to "spend [his] life in Smeerensburg with an old man and surrounded by crazy people, wanting nothing more in life." Later, after spending time with Márgu, Alva, Klaus and the Saami villagers, we hear Jesper warmly monologue those same words.
    • When Mrs. Krum predicts that Smeerensburg will fall back on its baser, feuding ways once the presents stop coming, Jesper quietly argues "A true act of goodwill (...) always sparks another."
  • Misery Builds Character: Jesper's father decides to send him to a small town in the Grim Up North in hope that this will teach him a life lesson. It does, but not in the way he expected.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: As Jesper returns to make a deal with Klaus, he watches him work, but thinks he's preparing to kill him. When Klaus hands him a noose-shaped rope, a scared Jesper resigns to his fate as he slowly and fearfully puts the noose around his head. Klaus then takes the noose off of him, attaches it to his new birdhouse, and throws the grapple up into the branches.
  • Never Learned to Read: Thanks to the Feuding Families refusing to let their children go to school due to a dislike of of their children "mingling" together in the same place, most of the children from both families are illiterate. Jesper eventually has to redirect them to Alva to teach them how to read and write, which in turn allows him to collect more letters.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The first official trailer makes Jesper seem good-natured and idealistic, while he's definitely not any of that at the start of the movie itself.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Krums and the Ellingboes (seemingly) destroy the presents and therefore sabotage Christmas. But in the process, Olaf saves Pumpkin and the two fall in love. What follows in the near future is a wedding between them, uniting the two clans and ending the very feud they worked so hard to save.
  • No Body Left Behind: When Klaus hears his deceased wife's voice calling to him, he sets down his axe and tells her he's ready moments before his body fades away into snow that then blows away. Jesper and the other townsfolk never find out what became of him, and he continues to deliver toys as a spirit years later and Jesper knows it's him.
  • Norse By Norse West: The general cultural tone of the entire movie is Scandinavian, based on the Scandinavian surnames (at least Johanssen), the Sami populace (common in northernmost areas of Norway and Sweden), and "Royal" as part of the postal service (all Scandinavian countries have a royal family and monarchical rule - Finland being a grand principality until 1918 and Iceland a kingdom until 1944).
  • Not This One, That One: When Jesper is about to leave for Smeerensburg, he thinks he can take the royal coach but it moves away to reveal a shabby old coach.
  • On One Condition: Jesper's father decides to cut him off for good unless he delivered 6,000 letters.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Klaus may not always be level-headed, but he keeps a relatively cool head for a grumpy old man. When Jesper accidentally finds the decorative shelf Klaus made with his late wife of the family they wanted to have, it's then that Klaus tells him to "Get Out!", showing his temper for the first time.
  • People of Hair Color: The Krums have black hair and the Ellingboes have red hair. Jesper, Alva, Márgu and the Saami, who aren't part of the town of Smeerensburg, have blonde hair.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation: The scene that shows Jesper traveling to see Klaus is kicked off by a zoom-up on the map which then slowly transitions to him on the mountain path in his coach.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Once Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe out Jesper and his selfish intentions before his friends, Alva is furious and sees his kindness as one big lie. And Klaus? He coldly cuts ties with Jesper and literally slams the door in his face. This forces Jesper to realize what he had just lost, and prompts him to later make up for it.
  • Preemptive "Shut Up": At least in two scenes do characters ask others in advance not to offer comments.
    Mrs. Krum: One down, one to go.
    Mr. Ellingboe (opening his mouth)...
    Mrs. Krum: If you ask me "who" right now, I swear!
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: If you thought that turning on the subtitles might help you understand the Sámi language spoken onscreen, think again.
  • Reflexive Response: Played for Laughs as, when the Feuding Families call a temporary truce to join up and get Jesper out of town so they can resume the feud, Pumpkin accidentally pulls the Battle Bell's cord... causing both groups to start brawling right after a Dramatic Pause.
  • Rescue Romance: Pumpkin almost falls off a cliff, only to be saved by Olaf, which causes the two to fall in love.
  • Reused Character Design:
    • Jesper greatly resembles Dr. Delbert Doppler from Treasure Planet, no doubt due to Sergio Pablos designing both characters.
    • Mr. Ellingboe, leader of the Ellingboe clan, looks very much like the Mayor from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • Ridiculously Long-lived Family Name: The town of Smeerensburg houses two families: the Krums and the Ellingboes. These two families have been in a big feud for generations, and even have art from previous generations of their fights. How long have these two family names been fighting? Let's just say their oldest depiction of the feud is from a cave painting.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • A great deal of Alva's personality is often indicated by lighting. In the beginning, she's normally in shadows, showing how her "light" has gone out a long time ago. But as the movie progresses and her dream of being a teacher reignites, she's in light more and more.
    • When he watches the little boy play with the little wind-up frog Jesper delivered, Klaus removes his hood as his gentler nature comes to light.
    • The level of goodwill and kindness in either the children or adults of each clan is indicated by how colorfully they are dressed.
  • Rump Roast: During the montage of Jesper delivering presents down the chimneys, the final one has a lit fireplace, resulting in him leaping out the window crying as his rear is on fire.
  • Running Gag:
    • The Ellingboe children finding ways to torment the old man in the rocking chair.
    • Also the creepy Krum girl who is repeatedly seen slowly, deliberately twisting her (carrot) shiv into her (snowman) victims.
    • The poor horse who has to pull heavier and heavier passengers.
  • Santa Clausmas: A Christmas movie acting as an origin story for Santa Claus that has nothing to do with Saint Nicholas of Myra.
  • Scenery Porn: Absolutely. Smeerensburg and its mountains are gorgeous.
  • Schmuck Bait: Mogens gets Jesper twice:
    • Jesper is genuinely surprised that the town didn't come out in force to greet their newly-assigned Postmaster - so Mogens eagerly points out the bell in the square, telling Jesper he just needs to ring it to bring everyone out.
    • Later, when Jesper notices "the woodsman's cabin" on his map of Smeerensberg, Mogens encourages him to visit, telling him the woodsman is "real friendly" and "loves visitors."
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Klaus catches Jesper accidentally breaking into his shack, Jesper almost flees Smeerensberg on the spot, figuring it's better to be alive in the gutter than cut to pieces by an ax.
  • Secondary Character Title: The protagonist's name is Jesper; the title refers to the toymaker he teams up with.
  • Serious Business: The post officer guild is run with military-like proficiency.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Alva is never bad-looking, as such, but as a fishmonger she is constantly scowling, her hair is a limp mess and her clothes are rags. When she gains children to teach, she cleans herself up and has a sunnier disposition.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • When looking for a location to set his story in, the director investigated the most northern settlements in the world; that's how he found Smeerenburg, a whaling outpost in the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic sea. This gave the film a clear setting and some hints of Norway's culture are shown throughout the film such as the Sámi people being featured prominently and other small details like the traditional Scandinavian box beds the children sleep in during the epilogue. To boot, the real Smeerenburg was a whaling colony - in Smeerensburg, the skeleton of a whale hangs close to the ferry dock.
    • Director Sergio Pablos had previously worked for Disney as a character designer and animator during their Renaissance period, and this film really shows off the knowledge and talent he acquired during his time there, as many have favorably compared the film's animation to this period of Disney.
  • Signs of Disrepair: As Mogens is showing Jesper his post office, the "S" from the POST sign up front falls off.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Ultimately ends up very much on the idealism end. Despite the whole naughty-or-nice letters-for-toys situation starting out with selfish intentions, Jesper so he could return to his luxurious lifestyle and the kids so they could get toys, the gratitude and joy the good deeds sparked eventually led to a cycle of increasingly selfless acts of kindness and altruism, ending with Smeerenburg becoming a place of happiness and friendship, not misery and hatred.
  • Small Parent, Huge Child: Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe are two average-sized adults. However, Mrs. Krum's son Olaf and Mr. Ellingboe's daughter Pumpkin are enormous brutes that tower over the entire town of Smeerensburg.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: The nameless bully who teases Jesper and ends up with a piece of coal. When the bully confronts Jesper about the coal he got, Jesper stated he deserved it because of how rude he was. He then comes up with the "Naughty List" and stated that only good kids got presents. The other kids overhear this and go around town doing selfless deeds and fixing the damage caused by the city's constant battles, to the point where Smeerensburg quickly became a city of peace and happiness. And to think, this all happened because of that single bully.
  • So Proud of You: It happens offscreen, but it's still there. When Jesper explains everything that happened to his father, the Postmaster General hugs his son and allows him to continue his life in Smeerensburg because he has seen it has truly changed Jesper for the better.
  • Soup Is Medicine: When the Krum father hurt his leg, the kids carry him home and treat him with soup.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Krums and Ellingboes would've been successful at destroying the presents if it hadn't been for Alva learning about the plan from her students. Conversely, they'd have felt encouraged for having destroyed the decoy bag of "presents" and left peaceably, except Jesper, being Locked Out of the Loop, treated them like the real toys, and thus started a high-stakes chase.
    Alva: But then you showed up. And made it complicated. As usual.
  • Squish the Cheeks: Mrs. Krum squishes the little Krum boy's cheek in disapproval of him playing with an Ellingboes girl.
  • Stab the Scorpion: Klaus hands Jesper a rope and the latter believes this was to hang him but then it's revealed the rope was for mounting a birdhouse.
  • Start X to Stop X: The truce between Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe. Making peace in order to stop peace.
  • Stealth Pun: The decorative shelf Klaus made for his and Lydia's future children is carved from the heart of a tree. It's his family tree.
  • The Stoic: Klaus starts off as this, which is part of why Jesper is initially afraid of him.
  • Stunned Silence: At the climax, the assembled mob is so flabbergasted by Jesper's antics that they sit and stare as the sled slowly slides away before coming to their senses and giving chase.
  • Take My Hand!: When Pumpkin falls off of a cliff during the chase sequence, she's saved when Olaf leans over the edge and grasps her hand.
  • Teetering on the Edge: The climactic Chase Scene ends with Jesper stopping the runaway sled right over a drop. The presents fall off thanks to Mrs. Krum, but The Reveal shows they were fakes after all.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Jesper says, and realizes it, when he sees Alva's graduation picture, compares it to her current state, and asks, "wow, what happened?"
  • Time Skip: The epilogue takes place twelve years after the events of the movie.
  • Together in Death: The movie ends with an elderly Klaus joining his wife in the afterlife, but still managing to visit the world once a year to carry on the Christmas tradition.
  • Took a Level in Kindness:
    • Jesper's character arc is all about this. He starts out as a spoiled, egotistical brat who only wants to deliver letters in Smeerensburg to get out of there as soon as possible. However, thanks to Klaus' influence, he slowly grows to genuinely care about the town's citizens and decides to stay there in order to help Klaus deliver presents to the children.
    • All (or at least most) of Smeerensburg also become kinder, thanks to Jesper's actions. Best demonstrated by the Ellingboe children harvesting the berries for a Krum woman (instead of stealing them). Angry about being indebted to an Ellingboe, she makes jam and gives it to the children's mother, who retaliates by making her a pie, at which point the two become friendly and are the first adults to put aside the feud.
  • Torches and Pitchforks:
    • When Jesper unwittingly rings the Battle Bell, he's greeted by a mob of locals rushing out of their houses armed with an assortment of farming implements and household tools and spoiling for a fight.
    • When Mrs. Krum and Mr. Ellingboe gather the remaining feud-happy clansmen to take down the toymaking operation, they arm themselves with the traditional mix of farming tools and burning torches.
  • Tough Love: Jesper's father sending his son to Smeerensburg is an act of this, meant to help Jesper learn self-reliance.
    Sergeant: Sir, I'm all for discipline but... Smeerensburg? Isn't that a bit excessive?
    Jesper's Father: (sighs) That boy needs a wake-up call, Sergeant. And who knows? Someday he might even thank me for it.
  • Trauma Button: Jesper accidentally pushes Klaus's when he happens upon the decorative shelf Klaus made with his wife.
  • Travel Montage: A montage showing Jesper's troublesome coach ride to Smeerensburg with him constantly cursing his dad.
  • Trophy Room: Both the Krums and Ellingboes have trophy rooms that are used to provide some backstory to their Forever War.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: When the two leaders of the Krums and Ellingboes separately show their kids the Trophy Room of their clans, the scenes cut back and forth between the expositions:
    Mrs. Krum: There was the hundred-day brawl of '45...
    Mr. Ellingboe: ... which we totally won! ...
    Mrs. Krum: The maritime Game of Chicken...
    Mr. Ellingboe: The Great Mooning of '86...
    Mrs. Krum: So, if there's something we know...
    Mr. Ellingboe: ...going back as far as we can remember...
    Mrs. Krum:'s that a Krum despises an Ellingboe...
    Mr. Ellingboe: ...and an Ellingboe can't stand a Krum!
  • Unimpressive Progress Reveal: Jesper's first major toy delivery operation leaves the postman so exhausted and battered that he has to drag himself back to his office, and yet he hasn't even delivered a hundred letters when he makes the first mark with yellow chalk.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Jesper returns just in time to try and save the presents during the climax, or so he thinks. Turns out Alva, Klaus and the rest already knew of the Krums and Ellingboes' plan (as their children had let Alva know about it in class) and had come up with their counter-one: replace the presents with wrapped-in firewood and let the Krums and Ellingboes simply leave with the fakes, believing they'd won. It would have worked out perfectly had Jesper not unknowingly nearly ruined it, though his involvement did help prove to Klaus and Alva that he genuinely did care about the presents - and by extension, the children.
  • Unstoppable Mailman: The Royal Postal Academy is a pseudo-military boot camp, and since every home in Smeerensburg is an armed fortress, Jesper has to go to absurd lengths to deliver Klaus's presents, including dropping down their chimneys, avoiding booby traps, and slipping past guard dogs.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: One of the most glorious inversions ever. Jesper has no intention to do anything other than deliver 6,000 letters, leave the perpetually feuding hell-hole of Smeerensburg, and go home to a life of luxury. In pursuit of this goal, he unwittingly steals a child's drawing (depicting how unhappy said child is) and takes it all the way to a reclusive mourning toymaker (Klaus) who then delivers a mechanical frog to the unhappy kid, leading to all the other kids wanting to send letters to Klaus in exchange for toys, which makes them happier children than before that are willing to play with each other regardless of the feud. Furthermore, Jesper refuses to take any message other than letters, excluding the kids who don't know how to write and then slyly suggests they go to Alva's school, prompting the children to seek the education their parents have denied them. Jesper then does an act of spite against a bully that targeted him earlier in the movie, replacing the present with a lump of coal and making up the naughty list myth when the bully tries to retaliate, prompting all the other children present to behave better lest they get coal instead of presents too. The children's quest to be well-behaved spirals out of control until it infects the adults and by the time Jesper's personal goal is looking realistic, Smeerensburg has become a nearly idyllic paradise and he hasn't noticed.
  • [Verb] This!: At Smeerensburg, Jesper is greeted by a snowball from the town's bully with the line "Mail that, postman!".
  • Watch Where You're Going!: During the climactic Chase Scene, Pumpkin and Olaf bump into each other while trying to snatch Jesper.
  • Wham Line: From Klaus, when telling Jesper about his wife:
    Klaus: And then...she got sick.
  • Wham Shot: Whilst trying to plan for Klaus' Christmas stunt, Jesper stumbles upon the decorative shelf that Klaus and his wife intended to represent their would-be family. The whole thing speaks for itself.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The bully kid isn't seen again after Jesper tells him about the naughty list.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • On one hand, Mrs. Krum tearing open the bag full of "presents" and therefore sending them off the cliff establishes just how spitefully staunch she is about maintaining the feud.
    • On the other hand, Jesper establishes his redemption and character growth by returning and giving it his all to save the Christmas presents from the Krums and Ellingboes, even though it turns out to be firewood in gift wrap.
    • Despite spending the majority of the movie as Mrs. Krum's Dumb Muscle son, Olaf goes out of his way to save Pumpkin from falling off the cliff, which causes the two to fall in love.
    • The moment Klaus decides to fully help Jesper in his mission and start building toys again is when the Sami girl, Margu, who Klaus has never met before, asks Jesper to build her a sled. Despite no one but Alva, who also lacks carpentry skills, knowing about this, Jesper, who has no carpentry experience whatsoever, nevertheless goes right back to Klaus' workshop and works til he collapses from exhaustion to build her one. When Klaus finds a sleeping Jesper slumped over the workbench with his horribly amateurish attempt at building her a sled, he realizes that Jesper's intentions are pure, wakes him up, and teaches him how to build her a proper sled.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: Leaving a present on the mantle of an Ellingboe family's home, Jesper recognizes the boy in the family portrait as the one who yelled ''"go home, you loser!" on his first day in Smeerensburg. Withdrawing the present, he plucks a lump of coal from the scuttle next to the fireplace and drops it in the boy's stocking.
    Who's the loser now, ya little brat?
  • Winds Are Ghosts: The film implies that Klaus's deceased wife Lydia stayed on with him in the wind that blows around him during pivotal points.
  • Wintry Auroral Sky: Towards the end, we see Jesper and Klaus on a steamboat delivering presents to further locations. Behind them, the sky shows an aurora borealis.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The women in both the Krums and Ellingboes are shown as eager participants in their brawls, and no one raises any objections to this.
  • Wretched Hive: Smeerensburg is described as "the unhappiest place on Earth" by Alva, and the townsfolk are shown to be quite violent towards Jesper.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Klaus


Klaus mistaken for a killer

As Jesper returns to make a deal with Klaus, he watches him work, but thinks he's preparing to kill him while he's actually creating a new birdhouse.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / MistakenForMurderer

Media sources: