Combustible Celluloid
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With: Miles Scott, Eric 'E.J.' Johnston, Patricia Wilson, Mike Jutan, Sue Graham Johnston, Philip Watt, Mike DeJesus, Ed Lee, Natalie Scott, Nick Scott, Greg Suhr, Hans Zimmer
Written by: Kurt Kuenne, Dana Nachman
Directed by: Dana Nachman
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic material
Running Time: 87
Date: 06/26/2015

Batkid Begins (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Holy Humanity!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Whether you were there on November 15, 2013, or if you just heard about it on the news, nearly everyone in the world was moved by the adventures of Batkid in San Francisco. Now the new documentary Batkid Begins tells the whole story, from cowl to cape. It begins with Miles Scott, a northern California kid who was diagnosed with leukemia at 18 months of age.

Miles missed out on a normal childhood as he underwent a series of brutal treatments. During that time he discovered Batman, via TV reruns of the 1960s series, and became a fan. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation determined that Miles qualified for a wish, he decided to be Batman. Patricia Wilson, the executive director of the San Francisco chapter of Make-A-Wish, went into action.

The day was planned as a series of rescues, chases, and collars, which only grew more and more complex. She hired acrobat/programmer Eric "E.J." Johnston to play Batman, and he in turn recruited his wife Sue Graham Johnston to play a "damsel in distress" and his friend Mike Jutan, a computer engineer for ILM, to play the Penguin. Actor Philip Watt portrayed the Riddler, and Giants mascot Lou Seal volunteered to be kidnapped.

The big story was how a request for a couple of hundred sideline spectators turned into a flash mob of thousands. However, many fascinating smaller stories also materialize, and filmmaker Dana Nachman beautifully weaves them into Batkid Begins. They range from E.J. building a wrist projector to receive "reports" from SF Police Chief Greg Suhr, to the source of the actual Batkid suit.

But what Nachman really uncovers here, and what makes Batkid Begins such a profoundly moving experience, is the unbelievable human connection and camaraderie that sprung up all by itself on the day. It's rare when a documentary has the chance to showcase the absolute best of humanity, especially given the format's typical focus on doom and gloom.

Throughout the movie, "Batkid" participants both marginal and essential talk of kindness, caring, and cooperation everywhere, despite the massive crowds. This is perhaps the reason that it's so easy to get choked up while watching this film. Even the interviewees regularly talk about being moved to happy tears.

But while Batkid Begins could have been shameless and goopy, Nachman keeps it miraculously on track, and like the Batkid event itself, it's difficult to let any negativity ruin it. When you leave the theater, you may even feel like being a little extra nice to people. Now that's a real superpower.

Warner Home Video released a kid-friendly DVD in October of 2015, with no Blu-ray edition. It features several previews for Batman-related videos, which play automatically at startup. The main menu gives you subtitle options and a "play" button, and that's about it. Simple enough for kids to operate, but a bit of a bummer for fans who were hoping for more behind-the-scenes stuff.

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