Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dear Mr. Watterson (2013)

Director: Joel Allen Schroeder

Composer: Mike Boggs

Starring: Berkeley Breathed, Seth Green, Stephan Pastis, Bill Amend, Jeff Mallett, Dave Kellett, Jan Eliot, Lee Salem, Wiley Miller, Nevin Martell, Jean Schulz

More info: IMDb,

Tagline: An Exploration of Calvin & Hobbes

Plot: Of American newspaper comic strips, few great ones have been so short-lived, and yet so enduring in the public, than "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Watterson. This film explores the strip, its special artistic qualities and its extraordinary lasting appeal decades after its conclusion. Furthermore, the film explores the impact of Bill Watterson, a cartoonist with high artistic ideals and firm principles who defied the business conventions of a declining medium. Although he forwent a merchandising fortune for his strip, various associates and colleagues speak about how Watterson created a legacy that would be an inspiration for years to come.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

As a child of the 70s I read the funny pages, or the funnies as my grandmother called them, religiously.  Peanuts was a favorite before I turned double digits, then it switched to Bloom County in '81.  That lasted until late '85/early '86 when Calvin & Hobbes burst onto the scene.  C&H instantly became my favorite for all of the reasons outlined in this film.  Over the years I've re-read the books of collected strips and I find myself laughing hysterically and crying like a baby.  It's incredible how Watterson was able to create something that speaks to so many people in such a profound way.  It was a consistently brilliant strip and I'd be hard-pressed to find another that's even a close second. This documentary doesn't have a single interview with Watterson (which isn't surprising as he's notorious for his shunning of publicity), but that's not what this is about.  It's a love letter to Watterson filled with fans of this strip telling him how much joy and inspiration he's given them. 

There's a lot of hate for this on IMDb and it's unjust, not because I disagree but a lot of reviewers are missing the point.  This is strictly about how much impact the C&H strip has had on peoples' lives with some exploration into why that is so.  It's not about Watterson or what made him do it but rather why it's so special to us.  One of the more interesting segments is addressing why Watterson has famously denied the world any licensing for merchandise.  I used to think I understood but it's spelled out by his peers in this film and it makes much more sense.  Watching this sometimes feels like a greatest hits of panels from the strip but that's part of the fun.  This is a no-brainer for fans of the strip and it's probably going to leave you reaching for one of your C&H books only to get lost in your childhood for the next hour.  How bad can that be?

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