Netflix Animated Pics Draw From Heart to Hand

Jennifer Wolfe

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In a field dominated by CGI-animated studio sequels, Netflix has turned a spotlight this awards season on traditional hand-drawn animation with two very different movies.

Aimed at adult audiences, director Jérémy Clapin’s debut feature “I Lost My Body,” an adaptation of the 2010 novel “Happy Hand” by “Amélie” screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, is a gritty story immersed in the details of everyday life told from the point of view of a severed hand. And Sergio Pablos’ family feature “Klaus” is a clever, tightly knit Santa Claus origin story that pushes 2D animation to new heights.

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Produced by Jinko Gotoh (“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” “The Little Prince”), “Klaus” is based on an original story by Pablos, who shares screenwriting credits with Jim Mahoney and Zach Lewis. Pablos and producing partner Marisa Roman founded the SPA Studios in Madrid to bring “Klaus” to the screen, assembling a team of world-class 2D animators to develop custom-built shading and lighting tools for a beautifully stylized 3D effect.

Guaranteed to charm even the biggest grouch, “Klaus” features Jason Schwartzman, who voices hapless postal worker Jesper alongside J.K. Simmons as the taciturn woodsman Klaus; the two are an unlikely duo dedicated to delivering toys to the children of Smeerensburg, the fictional Nordic village. Rashida Jones, Norm MacDonald, Will Sasso, Neda Margrethe Labba and Joan Cusack round out the lead voice cast.

For Pablos, the driving force of “Klaus” is altruism, not Christmas. From the beginning, the “Despicable Me” creator says he “refused” to fall into the myriad traps of standard holiday fare.

“We’re not about saving Christmas. We’re not about a lot of the tropes that are usually found in these films,” he says. He initially approached the project as an exercise in storytelling. “If I can make an honest film about the Christmas spirit without actually mentioning the Christmas spirit, but having it come along in an organic way, that would be great.”

But once Pablos saw the story’s “potential for heart and humor and irony,” he realized, “this actually has to be a film.”

In stark contrast to the dazzling visuals and broadly accessible story of “Klaus,” Cannes Critics’ Week winner “I Lost My Body” is an arresting mix of hand-drawn 2D and computer-generated 3D animation. Bristling with texture and tactile sensation, the film’s distinctive visual style was achieved using open-source 3D animation software Blender. Characters and scenes were first modeled and animated in 3D, then retraced by hand and refined by teams of artists and animators using Blender’s 2D Grease Pencil tool.

The French film is produced by Marc du Pontavice at Paris and Lyons-based studio Xilam Animation (the force behind children’s property “Oggy and the Cockroaches”) and Réunion Island’s Gao Shan Pictures (César nominee “Zombillenium”). Balanced between the tangible and the imaginary, “I Lost My Body” provides a morbidly fascinating deconstructed narrative with multiple timelines. Featuring original music by French composer Dan Levy, the film follows the severed appendage’s wild escapade across Paris as it battles pigeons, rats and mass transit to reunite with pizza boy Naoufel, interwoven with flashbacks to Naoufel’s childhood and nascent romance with librarian Gabrielle.

Initially drawn to the project by the challenge of turning a severed hand into a dynamic and appealing character, Clapin uses animation to seamlessly push fantasy into reality.

“It’s a fantastic point of view, and when I read the book this is the main thing that got my attention,” the French director says. “The film is not just about a severed hand making a journey. It’s more what is behind, following the hand.”

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