MRR Review: "Dear Mr. Watterson"

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A documentary film about the impact of the newspaper comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, created by Bill Watterson.
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MRR Review: "Dear Mr. Watterson"

Rating: Not Rated
Length: 89 minutes
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Directed by: Joel Allen Schroeder
Genre: Documentary

"Dear Mr. Watterson" is a touching documentary film about Bill Watterson's beloved comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, and the impact it had on lives all over the world. Calvin and Hobbes was a daily comic strip that was featured in thousands of worldwide newspapers for almost exactly ten years. From November 18, 1985, to the very end of December in 1995, Calvin and Hobbes touched the hearts and minds of readers of all ages. The story follows the wild and adventurous friendship between a six-year-old boy named Calvin and his best friend, a stuffed tiger named Hobbes who comes to life through the power of Calvin's imagination. Even though Hobbes is more or less Calvin's imaginary friend, he is far more mature than Calvin and often acts as his moral compass, keeping the mischievous and impulsive Calvin from making terrible decisions. The two friends were named after Thomas Hobbes and John Calvin, a philosopher and theologian from centuries ago.

After Bill Watterson retired Calvin and Hobbes, he began a private and quiet life just outside Cleveland, Ohio. Never one to relish in the spotlight, Bill Watterson has done everything possible to maintain a low profile. He is reluctant to give interviews and rarely makes public appearances. Bill Watterson outright refuses to license his characters or sign autographs for his fans in an effort to stay true to his values and principles as a cartoonist. At one point, he secretly autographed copies of his anthologies from the Fireside Bookshop, a small bookstore in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where he grew up. When he found out that his books were being sold online for extremely high prices, the disappointed cartoonist stopped this practice. Since then, few have heard from him, though he did give a lengthy interview in the 127th issue of The Comics Journal in February of 1989.

Bill Watterson is such a private man that few know where he lives. When fans of Calvin and Hobbes first heard about "Dear Mr. Watterson," many had concerns that the film would seek to drag Bill Watterson back into the public eye. Fortunately, director Joel Allen Schroeder is a true fan of the comic's creator, and true fans tend to respect Bill Watterson's wishes to live a fairly anonymous life in the years since he retired Calvin and Hobbes. Unlike many documentaries, "Dear Mr. Watterson" does not seek to invade anybody's privacy or reveal secret information. Instead, "Dear Mr. Watterson" is a love letter from the fans of Calvin and Hobbes to their creator. It's also almost certain that "Dear Mr. Watterson" is the only film that will be related at all to Calvin and Hobbes, as Bill Watterson is staunchly against the idea of a film adaptation of his comics.

In spite of Watterson's reclusive lifestyle, fans all over the globe still try to find ways to show the cartoonist what Calvin and Hobbes meant to them, and "Dear Mr. Watterson" aims to do just that. Since Bill Watterson himself could not be tracked down for a role in the movie even though Joel Schroeder wanted to include him, the film is packed with recollections from the people who knew him while he was still a cartoonist. Most of the fascinating recollections in "Dear Mr. Watterson" come during the parts with Lee Salem and Berkeley Breathed. Lee Salem's company managed the strip, and Berkeley Breathed was a fellow cartoonist in those years. Like everyone else in the movie, these two have a tremendous amount of admiration for Bill Watterson. However, their relationships with him were occasionally rocky. Salem and Watterson clashed frequently as the manager continuously struggled to convince Watterson to license his characters, something he refuses to do to this date. Watterson and Breathed got into arguments more than once over the latter's readiness to license the characters from his strip, Bloom County.

The documentary eventually wraps up with a discussion about whether or not the world of comics will ever be the same now that entertainment is almost always about technology and convenience. Newspapers are not nearly as common as they used to be, and traditional pen-and-paper artists are difficult to find. In fact, many comic strip fans readily admit that the genre is dying. In spite of this rather dismal outlook on the future of comics, the movie maintains its heartwarming tone and makes it clear that Calvin and Hobbes will never fade from the memories of its fans regardless of whether or not comic strips ever make a comeback.

Rating: 3 out of 5