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Monday, 24 February 2014 00:00

'Dear Mr. Watterson' praises Calvin and Hobbes + Video

'Dear Mr. Watterson' praises Calvin and Hobbes
Written by Diane Carson
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Director Joel Allen Schroeder's documentary "Dear Mr. Watterson" delivers a 90-minute love letter to Bill Watterson, the creator in 1985 of the immensely popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Schroeder's sentiments are heartfelt, effusive, and dull. He makes the common mistake of enlisting Calvin and Hobbes' admirers for testimonial after testimonial when insight and analysis are needed to explain the praise.

Schroeder delivers very little of that needed explanation. The film's celebrated Bill Watterson contributes to this problem because of his reclusive lifestyle, a kind of Salinger of comics. However, that doesn't excuse boring scenes of Schroeder visiting The Ohio State University's Bill Ireland Library, for example. Despite its admittedly wonderful comic strip collections, we spend time looking at rows of books on shelves and closed drawers, learning that patrons can't check out material. And we're wasting our time.

Repeatedly we hear that Calvin and Hobbes' interactions in the strip had layers of meaning. We don't get examples. Even if we love the characters, we'd relish revisiting their clever and imaginative word play and the worlds created. "Dear Mr. Watterson" is so superficial that even, or perhaps especially, Calvin and Hobbes fans will be disappointed in a topic and a comic strip still waiting for an entertaining analysis instead of this parade of plaudits--astonishing success, over 2500 newspapers worldwide, awards galore, etc. Why?

To be fair, the visit to his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, though too brief, is enjoyable as we see the landscapes that provided backdrops for the strip. Also provocative, about two-thirds through, the film raises the issues of high art vs. low art and Watterson's refusal to agree at any merchandising because it changes the characters.

Watterson has written, "Calvin & Hobbes was designed to be a comic strip and that's all I want it to be. It's the one place where everything works the way I intend it to." His famous last strip ended with "Let's Go Exploring," a bittersweet and perfect farewell, which is where we'll have to leave him, with thanks, until a study more substantive comes along.

The St. Louis premiere of "Dear Mr. Watterson" is at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 7th through Sunday, March 9th. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or on the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.

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