In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney repeatedly argued for cutting public-TV subsidies and having the beloved character share the screen with ads — "I'm afraid Big Bird is going to have to get used to Kellogg's Corn Flakes" — opening himself to attacks that he cared more about Wall Street than about "Sesame Street."
In November, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, became the latest pol to find the big yellow target irresistible. After the Twitter account for Big Bird announced that the character had gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, following a CNN and "Sesame Street" town hall on vaccines for kids, Cruz called the tweet "Government propaganda…for your 5 year old!"
Leave aside the dubious claim that promoting childhood vaccination, a cornerstone of public health and schools, is "propaganda." Disregard how Cruz ignores that Big Bird was promoting the measles vaccine a half-century ago. And forget that, for decades, liberal and conservative parents have loved "Sesame Street" for its noncommercial wholesomeness.
"Sesame Street," which premiered in 1969, was the project of Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV executive who was originally more interested in the civil rights movement than in education but came to see the connection between the two. "The people who control the system read," she once said, "and the people who make it in the system read." And she believed that the best way to get the kids of the 1960s to read, paradoxically, was through TV.
'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' Review: A Play for Nostalgia and Merch 魔鬼剋星再臨 吸引影迷懷舊買周邊
If it seems that the only movie Big Hollywood knows how to make is the one they made last year — and the year before that — there's a reason. The industry's franchise fever is real, though much depends on timing.
"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" was directed by Jason Reitman, whose father, Ivan Reitman, directed the first two movies in the 1980s, and was in line to take on the third. Over many years and after many more studio notes, a new director, Paul Feig, was brought in, and the third movie became a female-driven reboot.
Before it even opened, the reboot became the target of viciously sexist and racist trolling and rage, a casualty of the culture wars. But much like the troublesome apparitions that haunt this series, profitable franchises (and even barely profitable ones) rarely truly die in Hollywood. And "Ghostbusters" is simply too goofy, too smart about dumb fun and too potentially lucrative to stay buried for long.
And so: "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," which is as cuddly and toothless as you would expect from a relaunched studio property in which the main characters are children and Paul Rudd plays a love interest. They're all predictably adorable and have big, easy-to-read eyes, the better to widen in feigned surprise or mock fear when various ghosts come a-calling.
For their part, the cartoonish apparitions range from the cutesy to the PG-13 snarly and include a roly-poly metal muncher, a pair of slathering hellhounds and some puffy, gurgling creatures whose wide-open arms and demonically cheerful smiles have been engineered for toy shelves and maximum nostalgia.
Franchise sequels bank on dependability and giving the audience exactly what it expects. "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" certainly makes good on that contractual promise: There are ghosts, and they are busted.
The movie leans heavily into the previous installments in an effort to create the kind of self-generating franchise mythology that can support further sequels (and so on). It trots out the familiar gadgets, ghosts and goo as well as beloved faces and Ray Parker Jr.'s indestructible earworm of a theme song. Like the younger Reitman, Phoebe and her Scooby Gang battle ghosts on every front.