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Movie review: 'Dear Mr. Watterson' gushes over 'Calvin & Hobbes' creator

Published December 27, 2013 9:22 am

Review • A fan's valentine is short on information.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the title suggests, the documentary "Dear Mr. Watterson" is a love letter — a fond "thank you" from filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder to his hero, Bill Watterson, the creator of the comic strip "Calvin & Hobbes."

This particular letter is gushing with enthusiasm for Watterson's work, but not particularly illuminating on why "Calvin & Hobbes" is so beloved and so enduring, nearly two decades after Watterson ended the strip.

"Calvin & Hobbes," if anyone doesn't remember, chronicled the adventures of a spiky-haired 6-year-old troublemaker and his best friend, a stuffed tiger that appeared real only to him. The strip ran from 1985 to 1995 and continues to be popular through book anthologies.

Schroeder never gets close to Watterson, who is famously press-shy. He does interview a plethora of other comic-strip artists, as well as comics scholars and a great many fans — the most recognizable being actor and "Robot Chicken" co-creator Seth Green.

Schroeder visits Watterson's home town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio — a Cleveland suburb that inspired the cartoonist's landscapes — and the museum at Ohio State University that houses his original drawings.

The cartoonists Schroeder interviews talk about the ways Watterson revolutionized the business. He brought back the half-page Sunday panel, a throwback to the early days of comic strips. He steadfastly refused to license his characters for merchandise (yes, those "peeing Calvin" stickers are all bootlegs). And he argued that strips should fold rather than run on forever, even after their original creator has died.

"Dear Mr. Watterson" is a fond look at Watterson's work, but if you really want to get to the heart of the brilliance of "Calvin & Hobbes," go back and read the original strips.

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'Dear Mr. Watterson'

A loving, but not particularly informative, documentary about the creator of "Calvin & Hobbes."

Where • Opens Friday, Dec. 27.

When • Tower Theatre.

Rating • Not rated, but probably PG for mild language.

Running time • 89 minutes.