Dear Mr. Watterson (2013)
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Critic Reviews for Dear Mr. Watterson
Everything you'd expect from a crowd-sourced documentary, designed to celebrate its subject, while mostly just validating the aesthetic taste of its backers.
It was one of the greats of the now-nearly-defunct Sunday funnies, no doubt. Unfortunately, there's not much cinematic magic in watching the director reading the strip, or hearing various other enthusiasts talk about how much they loved it.
If you're a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, director Joel Allen Schroeder's documentary Dear Mr. Watterson is more or less pure joy.
If nothing else, it's a pleasant reminder that if you haven't taken those Calvin & Hobbes anthologies off the shelf in a while, maybe it's time to go exploring again.
Audience Reviews for Dear Mr. Watterson
"Dear Mr. Watterson" tells the story of Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip that defied industry standards and ended in its prime. There is a lot more to this strip than a simple cartoon boy with an active imagination. The strip itself has been lauded as one of the greatest of all time. The stylized social commentary is genius in its own rite and is then combined with some of the best artistry in the industry. The sterotypes and social issues of our society are exaggerated in the imagination of this young boy, but always in a comical way. It appeals to all age groups, from kids who think that the tiger is cute to adults who are amused by Calvin's view of the adult world. But this documentary explores even deeper layers by examining the man behind the comic. Do not expect to see an interview with Bill Watterson in this documentary. That is part of the mystery. After completing Calvin and Hobbes, he removed himself from the public eye and lives in privacy with his wife. He rarely gives an interview, not even for a documentary about his life. Watterson ended the comic after a mere ten years to avoid a formulaic comic that repeated itself. He also passed on tens of millions of dollars that could have been made in merchandise because he did not want to cheapen his characters. Many of his colleagues share their perspectives on Watterson's choices throughout this documentary and it is amazing to see the level of respect that the community has for Watterson and his Calvin and Hobbes comic. He did not create this comic to make money. He created it for his love of comics, and consequently impacted most people who lived between 1985-1995. I have personally felt this impact of this comic, selecting a panel from a Calvin and Hobbes strip to be recreated as a painting in first grade. Perhaps the greatest moment of this comic was its final strip. It is so simple and perfect, and open to many different interpretations. I believe that Watterson is telling us that our childhood never has to end. That even when we move on to something new, we should approach it with the open-mindedness and imagination of a child, and that we should never stop exploring. If you were not a Calvin and Hobbes fan before watching this documentary, you certainly will be afterwards. Now please excuse me while I borrow one of the Calvin and Hobbes collections to relive my childhood.
There are few childhood introductions that you remember. I don't remember meeting extended family members for the first time as a 4 year old or meeting my kindergarten teacher. I do however remember the first time I met 'Calvin and Hobbes'. I was 5 years old, and my mother brought home a really interesting looking book from the bookstore one day. I was inherently drawn to the incredible artwork on the cover of my mothers copy of 'The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes' treasury, which she kept on the highest shelf in our living room. My mother would only let me read it if I promised to take good care of it and give it back to her when I was done. Over time, I fell so in love with the strip that I would scale the book shelves (which seemed like climbing Mount Everest at the time) to sneak some time with Calvin and his tiger.
Looking back, I can't say that anything else from my childhood has managed to preserve its wonder, relevance and wisdom in my world the way 'Calvin and Hobbes' has. Its easy to see why I loved it as a 5 year old. The artwork, the outward funniness of the strip, the imagination, etc. But now in my late 20's, I have found so many more reasons to love these characters. 'Calvin and Hobbes' is about so much more than funny jokes. It is about the wonderment of childhood, friendship, the power of imagination, integrity, nature, philosophy, the human condition, life and death, individuality, and so much more. I really can't think of anything (other than my parents) who influenced my world and my view of it more than 'Calvin and Hobbes'. It is something I hold very dearly, and wouldn't trade for the world.
'Dear Mr. Watterson' is essentially everything I just said spelled out through interviews with other cartoonists, avid fans, influenced celebrities, and cartoon historians. As a film, I can't say that it was a tremendous documentary. It was somewhat scattershot and lacked a real structure. Based simply on its own merit, I would probably rate it a 3/5. It really doesn't bring anything new to the table or present any unique take on its subject matter. It is essentially 90 minutes of hero worship to the strip and its creator, the enigmatic Bill Watterson. That said, hero worship is just fine by me. I completely enjoyed seeing all these people who were touched by 'Calvin and Hobbes' the way I was and hearing their stories. As much as this film lacked a strong overall focus and lineage, I enjoyed every second of it.
The film does spend a fair amount of time dissecting Watterson's infamous battles with Universal Syndicate and the licensing of his characters. I personally find Watterson's unflinching and unbreakable artistic ethics one of the more inspiring examples I have ever seen. The man turned down literally tens of millions (and perhaps much more) of dollars to maintain what he believed in and the integrity of his art. He turned down pitches from Spielberg, Disney, Lucas, ABC, and dozens of other incredibly high profile offers, as well as every type of merchandizing under the sun. Watterson understood what his characters were and how they were intended to be viewed. The idea of Hobbes selling MetLife insurance turns my stomach, and the fact that Watterson flat out refused obscene paycheck after obscene paycheck to keep that from happening is remarkable.
The film also gets into many more of Watterson's facets: his borderline reclusive personality, complete adverseness to fame, his history, and his influences among them. However, the films primary focus remains on the strip itself, the undeniable impact it had on so many peoples lives, and why it remains so important.
'Calvin and Hobbes' left an indelible mark on my life and my worldview. 15 years after its conclusion, I miss the strip more than I miss most people I knew 15 years ago. While I will always selfishly want more, I am so happy the strip never sold out, never waivered, and never lost the impossibly high standards Watterson set for himself. 'Dear Mr. Watterson' is a love letter to all of these thoughts, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
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