And when some kids tell the postman they can’t write

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When Jesper accidentally delivers a child’s drawing to loner Klaus (J.K. Simmons), the woodsman recruits Jesper to help him bring the boy a hand-crafted toy from Klaus’ large collection. This incident incites Jesper to action: if he can get the children to write letters to Klaus for toys, he can hit his quota. And when some kids tell the postman they can’t write, he encourages them to attend Alva’s classes. The naughty list is born when a kid who harasses Jesper gets coal in his stocking instead of a gift. And as the Santa Claus mythology is born, a small town’s citizens start, with some resistance, to get along with each other.

“Klaus” works best when it’s having fun with that mythos – the reason a child thinks he sees “flying” reindeer is a great bit of set-up-and-pay-off physical comedy – and when we see the impact that Klaus’ generosity and Jesper’s hard work has on the feuding populace of Smeerensburg. Pablos and his team give the visuals a lovely luster, with delightful character design reminiscent of vintage illustrations: Klaus, Jesper and Alva read as more realistic, the feuding Krums and Ellingboes get more comically caricatured treatment, and the Sámi people (also known as Laplanders), who assist Klaus in his workshop, appear both sweet and stately (all the while speaking their own, never-translated language).

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Even if Jesper’s character arc reads like that of many Hallmark Channel heroines – city slicker comes to small town with selfish intent, winds up falling for the homespun denizens – “Klaus” gets the sentimentality just right. As we learn just why Klaus has all those toys sitting around, or we see a dejected Jesper find hope from bright-eyed young Sámi girl Margú (Neda M. Ladda), the film gives us those heart-tugs that so many of us want out of our Christmas entertainment. But to get there, we have to endure a lot of whiny, bratty Jesper and sardonic Mogens, neither of whom are nearly as funny or charming as the movie thinks they are.

But Christmas is all about anticipation, and enduring those early, clunky scenes is totally worthwhile once you get to the lovely, soaring second and third acts of “Klaus.”

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