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Dear Mr. Watterson (2013)

Studio: Fingerprint Films

Distributed By: Gravitas Ventures

Theatrical Premiere: April 9, 2013

Video on Demand Release: November 15, 2013

DVD/Blu-ray Release: December 15, 2013

Director: Joel Allen Schroeder

Rating: Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I'll watch anything so you don't have to...including Dear Mr. Watterson.

Traditional Sunday comic strips are dying with the slow, painful demise of newspapers. I'm hard pressed to think of a single child who wakes up Sunday mornings, digs through their father's Sunday edition newspaper to read Peanuts, or Garfield in the comic section. Admittedly, even I do not subscribe to a newspaper and my own sons will not know the simple joy of thumbing through the comics, getting colored ink smeared on their fingertips. Personally, I don't remember the first comic strip I ever read in my father's paper, but I remember the last - Calvin and Hobbes, December 31, 1995. Let's go exploring!

Film [Rating: 4]

The demise of the traditional comic strip is only one of several topics covered in Joel Allen Schroeder's Dear Mr. Watterson. For those unfamiliar with the work of Bill Watterson, "Calvin and Hobbes" was a daily comic strip that was syndicated in newspapers from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. The stories often centered around the adventures of a precocious and spirited 6-year-old named Calvin, and his faithful tiger friend Hobbes, whom the rest of the world only saw as a stuffed toy.
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Fueled by his own admiration for the comic, Director Joel Allen Schroeder originally conceived Dear Mr. Watterson as an exploration of the cultural impact that Calvin and Hobbes has had on society. Schroeder eventually launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the film, and fans rewarded him mightily by donating more than double the $12,000 target. And from there the film began to expand.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Dear Mr. Watterson is that it is painted with such broad strokes that it will appeal to anyone from any age. The film examines a wide range of topics including fan love, Bill Watterson's creative inspirations, the dichotomy of Watterson's popularity vs. his need for privacy, Watterson's refusal to license Calvin and Hobbes (leaving millions of dollars on the table), a brief study of "high art" vs. "low art", and on and on...

Younger viewers can enjoy this movie regardless of whether they've encountered Calvin and Hobbes before. For those not familiar with the popular comic strip, Dear Mr. Watterson will feel like a great introduction piece. For the casual fan, the documentary will shed some additional insights that will enhance your appreciation for the comic and its creator. For the die-hard Calvin and Hobbes fans, the movie will help fill some of that insatiable desire for more, but I suspect this latter group will not be wholly satisfied.
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What ultimately prevents the documentary from achieving excellence is the absence of the elusive Bill Watterson whom is never pictured, interviewed or featured in the film. Although this does not come as a surprise, especially considering the amount of time spent in the feature explaining how private he is, the filmmakers cannot bring the narrative full-circle without Watterson's involvement. Especially for the hardcore fan, Dear Mr. Watterson will feel like an incomplete work because the questions fans have been dying to ask never get directly answered by the man himself.

In the end Dear Mr. Watterson is what it appears to be, a video love letter addressed to the author himself. Much time is spent raining fan praise and accolades down upon the unseen creator thanking him for inspiring the countless people who know and continue to discover his work, while also lovingly criticizing some of the author's business decisions. Simply put, the documentary is a celebration and even if the traditional comic strip doesn't endure, Calvin and Hobbs feels different. Despite a lack of licensed merchandise, plush Hobbes toys and coffee mugs, kids are still discovering the pair's adventures in books and in libraries and that is most certainly worth celebrating.

About the author: James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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