Dear Mr. Watterson ★★½

Is this film a love letter to a childhood hero? An extolment of an artist’s life’s work? Or just a bit of nostalgic mastication?

Remember that brave kid in elementary school who submitted his book report as a collection of pencil crayon drawings rather than completing the written essay as assigned? Surely your class had one, I know mine did. His report wasn’t without passion and it technically did what the assignment required: demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and convey an opinion about the material.

But it would only get a D, or a C- at best. Because teachers don’t tolerate that bullshit.

Joel Allen Schroeder’s doc is the equivalent of that kid’s report. Dripping in nostalgia, it’s an exploration of stories and characters which millions of people hold dear to their hearts. That’s a fact that renders Schroeder’s own opinion and feelings completely inconsequential, and yet the film spends so much time re-treading the same fact in new environments: “I like Calvin and Hobbes”. Well, no shit.

The film opens with the introduction to the film’s goals: “I’m not so interested in the man himself, but why his simple comic strip about a boy and his tiger could somehow hold such meaning.” For the next 90 minutes, Dear Mr. Watterson focuses very little on the why. And that’s a problem. It rambles, and the best parts of the film have nothing to do with the film’s premise, but rather about the comic industry and the commoditization of art itself. It hits its stride somewhere in the middle, but Schroeder’s own nostalgia seems too thick for him to notice.

The film is saved by its interviews with Watterson’s colleagues and its beautiful interstitial motion graphics, which bring Watterson’s work to life in wonderful detail. It’s a beautifully, simply shot film and its craftsmanship is clear. It's a shame that Schroeder’s own voice is uncompelling, nor are his goals for the film as brave as the Calvin he purports to see in himself.