Santa's origins revealed in sour animated Klaus

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      Featuring the voice of Jason Schwartzman. Rating unavailable

      Jolly old St. Nicholas? Not quite: the Santa in this new animated origin story, Klaus, is not the kindly, red-suited fat man depicted on Hallmark cards or in Bing Crosby Christmas carols.

      When bumbling postmaster Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) first meets the title character, he’s a shadowy, hooded figure who lives alone in the woods—a mountain of a man, with an axe, sinister black eyes, and thudding pointy boots. He also has a secret shed filled with creepy handmade toys.

      If this sounds more Black Christmas than Rankin/Bass, it’s a perfect illustration of the movie’s jaded-funny tone—its penchant for dark humour, and explanations for traditions like letters to Santa and flying reindeer that are alternately awkward and anticlimactic.

      Of course, Klaus becomes more sympathetic as the movie goes along. But the larger problem with the film is that no one is overly likable.

      Steering Netflix’s first animated feature, Despicable Me creator Sergio Pablos has come up with a stylized, visually rich meld of old-school-Disney hand-drawn animation with CGI enhancement. But there’s something missing from the end product—and let’s just say the Grinch knows what it is.

      The semiconvoluted story begins in Scandinavia, where Jesper, the spoiled son of a bigwig, gets sent by his father to reestablish a working post office in Smeerensburg, an iced-in outpost where families are so busy feuding, they don’t even send their kids to school anymore. In fact, the disillusioned teacher (Rashida Jones) has turned the schoolhouse into a fish-gutting shop.

      Jesper ends up having to convince hermit-Santa to secretly deliver his toys to kids—but only so the postmaster can generate enough letters to satisfy his dad and return to civilization.

      There are some gorgeous sequences, where the animation recalls the expressive, sketchy feel of 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book, but bathed in a luminescence only CGI can deliver. The snow whisking around Klaus’s birdhouses on birch trees is magical, and the crooked houses perched on the fjord are funkily Burton-esque.

      But it’s hard to connect with anyone stuck on this cold berg—and a gritty origin story probably isn’t on a lot of people’s wish list this holiday season.