Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Spain, 2019. The SPA Studios, Atresmedia Cine. Original story by Sergio Pablos, Screenplay by Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney, Zach Lewis. Produced by Gustavo Ferrada, Mercedes Gamero, Jinko Gotoh, Mikel Lejarza, Sergio Pablos, Marisa Roman, Matthew Teevan. Music by Alfonso G. Aguilar. Production Design by Marcin Jakubowski, Szymon Biernacki. Film Editing by Pablo García Revert. Academy Awards 2019. Washington Film Critics Awards 2019.
You didn’t think you’d ever need an origin story for Santa Claus, but this tale’s warmth and humour will make you feel so glad they made one. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is the unmotivated, privileged son of a Danish aristocrat who has no desire to excel at the family’s business of handling the royal mail. Exasperated with his son, Jesper’s father sends him to a barren outpost of the kingdom, a terrible island plunged in the bitter enmity between two families who get no end of pleasure from their rivalry (and most of their methods of hating each other are hilarious). Told he needs to send a certain number of letters by Christmas or else kiss his chances of coming home goodbye, Jesper tries his best to make his service essential to this pathetic hamlet, and in doing so stumbles upon a new friend. A reclusive woodsman named Klaus (J.K. Simmons) lives alone in a house full of toys whose purpose is not known to our nosy hero, but when the letters that the town’s children start sending are suddenly accompanied with these toys, the two form a partnership that will eventually give birth to an annual tradition. Every detail of story elements from the commonly accepted North American Christmas celebration is explained in this whacky charmer, one that mostly avoids being sappy or saccharine by being genuinely funny (though they push too hard on how cute the little Saami girl is, the indigenous group who, between this and Frozen 2, are how white people are patting themselves on the back this year). Joan Cusack has tons of fun voicing the film’s third act conflict, the elder member of the town who has no time for all these kids insisting on suddenly getting along.