Photos courtesy of Movie Star News
In the film universe, there are rarely any coincidences. Sure, there’s always the chance that an unexpected storm might occur, giving the cinematographer the chance to capture stunning and dramatic weather patterns. Or, like in the cult classic “Medium Cool,” an actual riot can break out, permitting the cameraman to keep rolling while protesters at the DNC act out and lash out. (The film’s cast continued to hit their marks and play their parts while pandemonium and arrests popped up all around them.) So, while there may be surprising instances that the producers either embrace or avoid, mostly everything on a movie set is controlled and predetermined: especially when it comes to teddy bears.
Yes, I happened to notice a cinematic hug of bears lately on the late-night movie circuit. (Late-night meaning after prime time, not the “after dark” collections courtesy of Cinemax and other cable packages.) From dewy-eyed sci-fi fighters (Chloe Grace Moretz) to dewy-eyed romantic heroines (Meg Ryan) to dewy-eyed surly babysitters (Jennifer Connelly), the must-have accessory seems to be a teddy bear. In all of these instances, the set designer and prop master made sure to scout for the perfect bear to drive home the moviemaker’s central theme.
In “Labyrinth,” a young Jennifer Connelly plays a 15-year-old girl who is on the cusp of adulthood. Growing into a blushing beauty, but still clinging to the toys and trappings of her childhood, Connelly plays the heroine Sarah Williams as a confused and emotional young woman who has one foot in childhood and the other foot in adolescence. Connected to the stuffed animals and playthings of her youth, she does not want to let any of them go. She is particularly angry that her approaching maturity is giving her more and more responsibilities: primarily watching her fussy and crying baby brother, Toby.
When Connelly sees how her prized teddy bear, Lancelot, has been given to her infant sibling, she loses her composure. The character is so infuriated that she makes a wish that Toby would be whisked away to the world of the goblins. And wouldn’t you know it? He is!
Created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the creatures who inhabit “Labyrinth” are manifestations of the teenager’s fears, anxieties, hopes, and aspirations. Many of the figures that she meets when she pursues her brother to this other world bear striking resemblances to the toys that were scattered around her childhood bedroom. In this Jim Henson-directed movie, the emphasis on stuffed toys as the last hurrah for Sarah Williams’s cozy and innocent childhood is brilliantly and meaningfully portrayed. One wouldn’t expect anything less from the man who gave us Kermit and Miss Piggy. Plus, “Labyrinth” has David Bowie in a sensuous and scary portrayal of the Goblin King, Jareth. The flick is worth catching, and it is especially worth watching as a teddy bear enthusiast. It shows how the emotional connection between a “hugger” and a “huggee” can’t be underestimated.
Another film that I recently watched that has a big storyline and an even bigger focus on teddy bears is the 2016 alien-invasion movie “The 5th Wave.” In this Earth vs. extra-terrestrials, there are hidden agendas, secret associations, and clandestine intrigue. One of the few things that is out in the open, and in your face, is the presence of little Sammy’s teddy bear.
Chloe Grace Moretz, who gained worldwide fame and critical acclaim as Hit-Girl, a tween superhero in “Kick-Ass” and “Kick-Ass 2,” portrays a typical high schooler in “The 5th Wave.” What sets her apart, though, is the dedication and determination that she shows toward her younger brother. Unlike the Sarah Williams character in “Labyrinth,” who wants to do anything but supervise her finicky brother, Chloe Grace Moretz’s Cassie Sullivan is loyal, fierce, and true-blue.
Having to battle an invading alien presence, and a looming U.S. battalion of soldiers who seem more hostile than helpful, Cassie Sullivan is in charge of her younger brother Sam’s welfare. Among her responsibilities are caring for his physical health and his mental well-being, which includes his beloved bear.
When the human refugees are about to be transported to a different government-run detention center, young Sam realizes that he is missing his bear. How can a lad on the run live without his ursine companion? Moretz’s character Cassie leaves the bus and heads off to retrieve the misplaced teddy. Of course, the bus pulls away, sealing Moretz’s fate and the bear’s as well.
In this suspenseful movie, Chloe Grace Moretz has to play an ordinary girl plunked down into extraordinary circumstances. Having the bear to hold, to hug, to remember her brother by, is a talisman for her and for the audience. Whenever she seems to be galloping too much toward a feminist Arnold Schwarzenegger — a slim Sly Stallone meets Steven Seagal — the director, J. Blakeson, pulls out the teddy bear and pulls out the five-hankie weep factor. We feel for Cassie Sullivan and her missing brother; the visuals of her alone with his teddy bear just heighten our response.
Yes, the sight of a teddy bear in a talented director’s hand can do wonders for a screenplay. The late Nora Ephron knew a thing or two about manipulating an audience’s reactions. She knew how to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, and a tear. Controlling the destinies of the fated-to-meet Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) and Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks), Ephron pulls out all the stops in giving the two on-screen lovers the perfect backdrop for their “meet cute.” Not only are they atop the Empire State Building, paying homage to “An Affair to Remember,” but they have Sam Baldwin’s precocious 8-year-old son, Jonah, as their meddlesome matchmaker.
When Sam and Jonah leave the Manhattan landmark, only to have to return because Jonah left his teddy bear behind, the lonely widower and his son exit the elevator to be greeted by the woman who will become their missing puzzle piece. Their first glimpse of Annie Reed is Meg Ryan at her most vulnerable and winsome. She is holding Jonah’s missing bear, and soon they all will be holding hands as a magically movie-made perfect family. And filmgoers can thank a teddy bear for creating that much-adored trio.