Claymation, Groucho Marx, and Monopoly | Real Reels

The history of a beloved board game, a behind-the-scenes view of LDS missionary work, and a claymation pioneer are among the subjects of this month’s must-see documentaries. 

Claydream. 96 min. Oscilloscope Laboratories. 2021. DVD UPC 5001080468. $34.99.

Will Vinton’s name might not be well-known outside the animation community, but anyone alive in the 1980s couldn’t miss the California Raisins or Domino’s Pizza the Noid commercials, which Vinton’s studio made. Director Marq Evans tells the story of Vinton’s career as a pioneer in clay animation (he won an Oscar in 1974 and multiple Emmy awards), all the way to his legal clash with Nike’s Phil Knight. Full of plenty of eccentric characters, conflict, failures, successes, and shifts from artistic pursuits to those resembling a corporation, this film gives access to an art form not often seen in the creative world: claymation. VERDICT Animation fans will love it.

Groucho & Cavett. 80 min. PBS. 2022. DVD UPC 4188704702. $24.99.

Part of the “American Masters” series by PBS, the title perfectly sums up Robert S. Bader’s film: Groucho Marx and Dick Cavett talking about and to each other on television in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is no effort to inform who these comedic legends are; it is, for the most part, Groucho unleashing nonstop one-liners. Groucho was in his 80s but still quick-witted and eager to trade barbs with anyone around him. This doc is comfortingly nostalgic, a peek into a different era of both TV and comedy. While the film is humorous, it is also interesting to see Cavett dissect Groucho’s comedic style and philosophy. VERDICT Watch one of the great 20th-century comedians whip out old-school bon mots in this funny, warm-hearted tribute to Groucho Marx.

The Mission. 95 min. Film Movement. 2022. DVD UPC 5002111597. $29.99.

Each year, over 60,000 young members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fan out across the globe to spread the word of the Book of Mormon. Tania Anderson’s documentary is the story of four missionaries who go to very secular Finland for nearly two years. They arrive wide-eyed and hopeful, planning lots of conversions, but reality will be different as they face near-constant rejection, and loneliness, homesickness, isolation, and doubts about their beliefs creep in. Ultimately, this film is about the broader concept of religious faith, no matter the denomination, and viewers get an intimate glimpse of not only what these missionaries face but the ramifications of their journey far from home. VERDICT A behind-the-scenes view of what it’s like to be an LDS missionary.

Ruthless: Monopoly’s Secret History. 60 min. PBS. 2023. DVD UPC 4188704746. $24.99.

The history of one of the United States’ favorite board games is told in this lively documentary from director Stephen Ives. Forget the origin story that Parker Brothers has told about a lone creator during the Great Depression—that’s folly. The real story is much more vivid, with a feminist named Lizzie Magie, Quakers, the tradition of homemade folk games, and, ultimately, a courtroom battle to keep that information secret. This is a rambunctious detective story full of pop culture and social commentary as the game’s story becomes a microcosm of capitalism itself. There is so much intrigue surrounding Monopoly that it veers into unexpected suspense-film territory when Parker Brothers attempts to control the game’s history. VERDICT After watching this doc, playing Monopoly will never be the same.

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