What “Calvin and Hobbes” obsessives really crave is a chance to meet the reclusive genius behind the comicstrip — a funny-pages version of “Salinger” or “The Stone Reader,” perhaps. But as its title sadly makes clear, “Dear Mr. Watterson” is not that kind of movie. Rather, it’s a love letter written from one of the spiky-haired 6-year-old’s fans to his inventor, padded with interviews from similarly gushy admirers and peers eager to sing his praises. It is, in short, everything you’d expect from a crowd-sourced documentary, designed to celebrate its subject, while mostly just validating the aesthetic taste of its backers. The film began a limited theatrical run Nov. 15 and is available in home formats.
Like Bart Simpson, Calvin will always be the same age in our memory. But unlike Bart, his likeness was never licensed to appear on every product imaginable — an artistic choice that allowed the page-bound character and his stuffed-animal companion to live exclusively in readers’ imaginations (and, unfortunately, either pissing or praying on the backs of pickup trucks). Unable to resist the commercial pull himself, “Bloom County” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed shares a Watterson original drawing that chides his friend for selling out.
In the absence of official “Calvin and Hobbes” merch, Joel Allen Schroeder’s lightweight doc — which contains talking heads galore as well as flash glimpses of every Calvin strip published, plus a nifty animated effect for redrawing certain frames — represents an effort to somehow take the phenomenon further. But alas, while beauty shots of Watterson’s Ohio woods nicely evoke his artistic spirit and minor revelations (like the fact that his Chagrin Falls school mascot was a stuffed tiger) elicit knowing smiles, such a documentary appreciation feels woefully inadequate, leaving its subject as mysterious as ever.