Friday, March 29, 2013

Mousey Movies - Argo

Movie poster showing a close up of Ben Affleck
Argo directed and starring Ben Affleck may be an odd pick for a Mousey Movie, but it is Mousey through and through despite being released by Warner Brothers. Sure, there are no cartoon animals, no plots full of gags, and I would not show it to the Between Tween because I think she would miss the historical contexts. But Argo has numerous ties to the House of Mouse and they cannot be ignored. In fact Sully (John Goodman) and Father in Law Christmas (Alan Arkin) both have significant roles and tie into some of my favorite Disney franchises.

Argo recounts the story of Central Intelligence Agency agent Tony Menedez, played by Affleck, and his efforts to lead six United States Embassy employees out of Tehran, Iran during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979. The six had fled the embassy and were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy. Menedez works with contacts in Hollywood to stage the production of a fake movie, Argo, so Mendez can spirit them out of the country as Canadian production staff. The movie is full of tension as the audience worries if Mendez and the six passengers will make it out of the country safely.

You know as I think about it, this movie is really in the mold of Disney movies. There is some violence, but Menedez’s strained relationship with his family is highlighted along with his desire to be closer to them. He easily could be the dad in a PG movie fighting the balance of work and family. And the action and escape plot kind of reminds me of Touchstone’s (which means Disney’s) 1988 film The Rescue, a film in which teenagers save their Navy SEAL fathers from North Korean captivity, a film that was introduced to by Uncle Mike on The Wonderful World of Disney (or whatever version existed at the time).

Mousey connections to Argo include:

  • Action Hero: So Ben Affleck really does not have typical “Disney” credentials. But Disney has other labels they release films through. Touchstone Pictures was established by Disney in 1984 for the release of more mature films. Affleck has appeared in two mega-hits for Touchstone. These hits were 1998’s Armageddon and 2001’s Pearl Harbor. When I rode The Studio Backlot Tour at Disney-MGM Studios (yeah, it’s been that long), it was Pearl Harbor that was plastered throughout the attraction. Both of these films were produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who now makes movies with the Disney label and makes buckets and buckets of money for the mouse. Disney actually helped Affleck in his big break. Affleck won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) with Matt Damon for 1997’s Good Will Hunting which was distributed by Miramax Films. Disney owned Miramax from 1993 to 2010, which they purchased as a studio to produce independent minded films with an adult edge. Affleck would later appear in Miramax’s 1998 Shakespeare in Love, which won the Academy Award for best picture, which I am still angry about today since Saving Private Ryan was clearly the better movie.
  • Plush: Menedez’s fake movie Argo is targeted due to the success of Star Wars. Basically everyone is trying to copy that success, including the CIA. Of course Disney itself tried to grab the coattails of Lucas’ success by offering up the underrated The Black Hole. The fact that Argo is a Star Wars rip off is clear at a table read which includes a character that can only be described as Purple Chewbacca! The impact of Star Wars goes past Purple Chewy, as Menedez’s son has a collection of Star Wars action figures that I am quite jealous of. Even as a grown adult I would really love his X-Wing, Millennium Falcon and the tall Boba Fett we see out of boxes in his bedroom!
  • Crossroads: When you visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios the Imagineers want to put you into Hollywood even though you are in Florida. To set the scene they use a number of Los Angeles’ landmarks to set the scene. One of these is a replica of the Crossroads of the World, which some claim is the world’s first shopping mall. The icon is a tower with a spinning glob on top and is found inside the entrance to the theme park. In Argo the icon can be seen as Mendez and his producing partner Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin, attempt to purchase the Argo script. 
The Crossroads of the World Icon - A spire with a spinning globe on top
Crossroads of the World
  • Old Guys: Of course a plan this crazy requires approval. So Menedez and his boss played by Bryan Cranston report to two senior CIA executives to get approval for them to kickoff their Hollywood plan. Cranston notes, “It’s like talking to the old guys on the Muppets.” The pair clearly are grumpy old men.
  • Tough Security: Anyone who has flown to Anaheim and Orlando knows that security can be strict. Ironically during the time period that Argo covers, airport security was less strict with friends and family visiting passengers at the gate. If you want to see tough security, you have to check out the multiple checks at the Tehran Airport as Menedez attempts to bring his passengers out of Tehran. Once when a TSA agent at John Wayne grilled my kids I thought it odd, but I appreciated that he was confirming they were who I said they were. But Argo makes it clear that security in today’s America is a lot more convenient than revolutionary Iran.

Argo is a great movie, and I would be more than happy to let Affleck participate in the Marvel or Star Wars universes after this fantastic offering. I look forward to seeing Affleck’s next project, which is not scheduled for Disney but Warner Brothers. But hopefully it will be just as Mousey and as entertaining as Argo.

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