It's possible to love a work of art, a piece of music, even a comic strip, to the point of near-speechlessness. That's the problem with Joel Allen Schroeder's heartfelt but largely inarticulate documentary Dear Mr. Watterson, which tries to capture the almost mystical appeal of Bill Watterson's newspaper strip Calvin & Hobbes, which ran from 1985 to 1995. When Watterson felt he'd taken the strip and its characters -- a spiky-haired six-year-old boy and his real-live-stuffed tiger sidekick -- as far as he could, he retired and slipped out of the limelight for good. What's more, Watterson refused (and, in his retirement, continues to refuse) to license his characters for any commercial purpose. Fans of the strip, millions of them, have felt bereft, left without even a coffee mug or plush toy to cling to. Schroeder, a devout fan himself, approaches an assortment of cartoonists, curators, librarians, and just plain folk, asking them to explain what, exactly, is so special about this strip. The drag is that most of the responses -- "It's just so inventive!" "I've never met anyone who didn't like Calvin & Hobbes!" -- are so sadly unimaginative. At one point, Schroeder drives us to his childhood home, leading us up to his attic bedroom that, he informs us, his eyes aglow, was once papered nearly floor to ceiling with Calvin & Hobbes strips. That's great -- but so what? Most people hold dearly to the memory of certain things they loved as kids, but those much-fingered scraps of security blanket aren't always enough to hold a documentary together.
Joel Allen SchroederBerkeley Breathed, Seth Green, Stephan Pastis, Bill Amend, Jef Mallett