The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Will the 2010 conservative tidal wave be reflected in Hollywood movies?

November 4, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Toy story_3 When an election has such decisive results as the one Tuesday, the winners -- in this case, the Republican Party -- are entitled to claim a mandate. The same goes for conservative thinkers who have been itching to figure out a way to loosen liberals' death grip on Hollywood -- or at the very least, make a persuasive case that the box-office success of movies such as "The Blind Side" prove that the public has a more conservative mindset than the show-biz liberal elite.

That's what conservative novelist and essayist Andrew Klavan did earlier this week in the L.A. Times, where he argued that the critically beloved "Toy Story 3" wasn't just one of the year's biggest hits, but also a critique of liberal overreach. Klavan called the film a "rebuke, not perhaps of the Obama White House specifically, but to its underlying ideas" as well as an escape adventure from "a leftist culture that has sought for 40 years to people and shape our imaginations with Lots-o'-Huggin' Bears, Big Babies and sissified men."

I think, to use one of New Gingrich's favorite expressions, that Klavan is offering a truly bizarre reading of the movie. But he isn't alone in envisioning a new conservative tilt to movies. Liberty Film Magazine's Jason Apuzzo has just put up a provocative new post with an intriguing reading of the coming wave of what he calls "politically charged" alien invasion movies, which includes next week's release of "Skyline." Here's the gist of Apuzzo's argument:

I think Hollywood -– as well as the indie film scene -– has been channeling a lot of the anxieties on display yesterday well in advance of the election. To put matters simply, the country currently feels like it’s under siege -– like it’s being invaded -– from forces on the outside (terrorism), and from within (political radicalism). And so it should come as no surprise that filmmakers as otherwise different as, say, Michael Bay and Tim Burton would currently be contemplating (or already shooting) alien invasion films of one kind or another. But there’s another reason, as well: I think that explicitly ‘political’ cinema in America is currently dead -– to the extent it was ever alive, to begin with. And so a lot of political ideas are getting channeled into mainstream science fiction.

I agree with at least half of Apuzzo's argument. The country probably does feel as if its been invaded from forces on the outside, not just from terrorism, but from a nagging feeling that countries like China and India own the future, having been far more successful at embracing innovation and education than we in America have been. But to say that the country feels under siege from political radicalism within seems like an awfully big stretch, since virtually every pollster has found that Joe Beer Can doesn't have any more confidence in Republicans than Democrats. His anxieties come from economic worries, not from whether Barack Obama is a Kenyan colonial-style Marxist (to use another favorite Gingrich phrase). When the Democrats failed miserably at fixing the economy, voters decided to give the GOP a chance.

This is where Big Thinkers on both sides go wrong. It's dangerous to start viewing too many movies as political straws blowing in the wind, which is why I find it hard to see "Toy Story 3" as any more of a conservative film than "Wall-E" as a cynical liberal attack on fat Middle Americans. Apuzzo has made a really good point -- science-fiction films often reflect societal anxieties, but I'm not sure you can so easily put a political spin on them, especially before you've seen them. America's future might be precarious, but when you start analyzing movies, you learn that they're a lot better at dramatizing the problems than offering any answers. 

Photo: From left, Woody, Mr. Pricklepants, Buttercup and Trixie in a scene from "Toy Story 3." Credit: Disney / Pixar