The Make-A-Wish Foundation scores a promotional homerun of incalculable proportions with “Batkid Begins,” an upbeat documentary that will give the organization’s program to give sick kids the chance to realize their dreams a major boost, and prod audiences to feel good about people in general—and thereby themselves. As a record of the event it’s amiable enough, but also a bit ragged and more than a little self-satisfied.
The film—technically a rather homely affair directed by Dana Nachman, shot by Don Hardy and Naomi Ture, and edited by Kurt Kuenne (who is also credited as co-writer with Nachman, though most of the footage is extemporaneous)—records the elaborate effort by the foundation to meet the hopes of five-year old Miles Scott, a leukemia victim from rural California. Like so many youngsters, Miles was a fan of superheroes, especially Batman, and so Patricia Wilson, the executive of the Greater Bay Area chapter of Make-A-Wish, hatched a plan with his parents Nick and Natalie to make him Batkid for a day. She enlisted E.J. Johnston, a former stuntman, to play Batman and his wife Sue, an acrobat, to help design the activities. When word got out about the project, the foundation was overwhelmed by people—and businesses—offering their cooperation and services.
What eventually occurred in November, 2013, was a massive full-day affair in which Miles, brought to San Francisco by his parents and given some helpful athletic training by Johnston, was summoned to don a Batkid costume the following morning and join Batman (Johnston) in a roundup of those nefarious Gotham villains, The Riddler and The Penguin. Defeating the first involved disabling a bomb supposedly tied to a female hostage on a city street, while arresting the latter, who had kidnapped the Giants mascot Lou Seal, necessitated confronting the waddling wrongdoer at the ballpark. Miles gamely went through the process even though at lunch he admitted that he was already tired out. (By this point in the film you might bec ready to call a halt, too.)
But by then the preparations had become so complex, and the crowds, egged on by social media, so large, that it would have been impossible to halt the juggernaut. Indeed, one has to wonder whether the entire project got out of hand. It’s one thing to lionize the Johnstons, who put their heart and soul into the affair from the start, or the boy who gave Scott his home-made Batkid costume (though it doesn’t look as though he was heartbroken about losing it), and the folks at the San Francisco Opera, who helped with the other duds needed for the cosplay, or composer Hans Zimmer, who provided a Batkid theme. One can also understand the willingness of the police chief and the major to get involved, and of President Obama in sending a congratulatory tweet. Political animals always appreciate good publicity.
But as the day—and the film–wear on, one begins to wonder about the thousands of ordinary folk who turn out to wave and cheer, camera-phones always at the ready, as the action proceeds. It was a Friday, after all—don’t they have jobs? And the more one looks, the more one wonders about the participation of outfits like Apple and Twitter, which certainly calculate the ratio of benefit to expenditure in getting involved. Favorable news coverage is always welcome.
Of course, such observations will probably be called Scrooge-like: the Batkid phenomenon, the film says, represented a genuine outpouring of support and affection for a kid who had faced down a dreaded disease, and the fact that it made such an impact not only nationwide but globally is testimony to the good will and generosity of the American people and mankind in general. And it’s unquestionable that the Make-A-Wish foundation is a great outfit. But very few of their projects involve this sort of expansiveness, and one wonders whether Miles wouldn’t have been equally satisfied with something a bit less ostentatious.
But “Batkid Begins” is, in any event, just an appetizer. It’s been reported that Julia Roberts is planning to make a feature about the event. There we’ll see how the story can be manipulated for maximum effect.