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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Sergio Pablos
scr Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney, Zach Lewis
prd Jinko Gotoh, Sergio Pablos, Marisa Roman, Matthew Teevan
voices Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons, Rashida Jones, Norm Macdonald, Will Sasso, Joan Cusack, Neda Margrethe Labba, Sergio Pablos, Kendall Joy Hall, Amanda Philipson, Sydney Brower, Tucker Meek
release US/UK 8.Nov.19
19/Spain Netflix 1h36
This animated Christmas comedy has a lot of kinetic energy to it, telling an engaging story with snappy humour and outrageously silly characters. The somewhat cheap-and-cheerful animation is funny and brightly lit, and the writers have fun reinventing each holiday tradition (from coal in stockings to flying reindeer) within the framework of an enjoyably deranged comedy.
To secure his inheritance, spoiled rich kid Jesper (Schwartzman) must join the family postal business, assigned to work on an Arctic island with a quota of letters to deliver. The village is snowy and grey, populated by two perpetually feuding clans. As he settles into the insanely rustic post office, he befriends Alva (Jones), the local schoolteacher/fishmonger. Then he visits the most isolated house on the island, where the hulking hermit Klaus (Simmons) stores his homemade wooden toys. So Jesper decides to get the children to write letters to Klaus in exchange for toys.
Of course, the toys create connections between children from warring families, upsetting the fabric of this angry village. Director Pablos' approach is generally toward slapstick mayhem, which younger viewers will enjoy. And for the older ones, there are constant comical touches that add interest with character detail, eye-catching visuals, holiday movie references and some nice emotional beats. And the village itself is so well realised that we want to know more about its battling history, particularly the Great Mooning of '86.
Of course, there must be villains, namely Ellingboe and Krum family leaders (Sasso and Cusack), which is a bit tedious. Although the way these feuding families unite in their hatred is inspired. Of the characters, only Klaus, Jesper and Alva come to life, nicely underplayed by the voice cast. Klaus' back-story is quietly moving, while Jesper's transformation into a functioning human is enjoyable. As is Alva's rediscovery of the joy of teaching. Meanwhile, Labba's adorable young Sami Margu is delightfully designed to steal the viewers' hearts.
The point is a bit belaboured, but the film makes some nice comments about not jumping to first impressions about people. And there are lots of other messages woven into the story, from the expanding impact of a selfless act to the inability of some people to accept positivity and happiness. But the playful mix of traditions and Christmas iconography is a lot of fun, even if its somewhat derivative. And the story takes a few climactic turns that give it some spark of its own.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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