Our amazing friends Jen, Jeff and Amy had a fantabulous baby shower yesterday where, among other things, we had to play a game where we had to guess various flavors of baby food. (The one that stymied us: corn, black beans and rice, basically a tamale in baby food form. Not yummy.) We had a lot of fun -- really, these baby showers are lots of fun, guys, why wouldn't you want to go? -- but the biggest surprise was to see the smiling faces of two other friends, Dave and Tracy.
As it turns out, Dave had let me know that he was coming to town from Boston to do some research in College Park; we had arranged lunch on or near campus so he could see Angela as well before he started work in earnest. This was all a big lie: he had already been here for a week for a conference and already did some research. When Jeff let them know about the shower, Tracy -- a.k.a. La Tenurada, having just gotten, becoming the first of our friends to get, tenure -- came down as well. So both Angela and I were truly shocked -- and immensely pleased -- to see them wander through the door.
They were free yesterday evening, so we invited them over for dinner and asked if they were interested in a movie. I had told them about Donnie Darko, which I thought was appropriate for them given their research interests (hers, concerning childhood development and imaginary friends, more than his, history of physics in post-WW2 America). I still had that on campus, however, so we chose an alternate: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant.
This is one of my favorite films and I don't know who is reading this blog (if anyone) but I highly recommend it: smartly written, beautifully drawn and definitely deserving of its PG rating. Not a cutesy film with cuddly creatures singing happy songs, but a solid animated work about what might have happened if science fiction came to life in 1950s' Maine and the titular giant metal man drops from the sky. My favorite character is the despicable coward Mansley, voiced by Christopher MacDonald, who tries to trick the boy Hogarth into telling him about the giant and is thwarted by, among other things, some crumbled-up chocolate laxative. (Xan will be forced to see it, but not right away.)
My students' reaction to the film has changed considerably over the last four years. I show clips every time I teach the general film class as examples of recent, gorgeous cel animation (fear not, Bugs Bunny is also represented) and students were pleased to learn of the film when I first started doing this about four years ago. Last semester, however, when I showed the clip, over half the class cooed with glee when I announced the clip. This actually makes some sense: the film was released in 1999, when my current students were about 12 years old. And although the film failed miserably in the theaters (bankrupting Warner Brothers' animation division, if I'm not mistaken), I suppose it must have found some life in the home video audience. Parents must have heard that it was a quality film (heck, it was given a seal of approval by Congress) and these kids have now grown up on it. People are now re-discovering the film because of Brad Bird's success with The Incredibles, which is all a very good thing.
Of course, the question now is: will Dr. Kaiser require viewing this film on his history of science syllabi at MIT later this year? Time will tell.