Brisby Bear is the story of man, James (Kyle Mooney), who’s lived his whole life in a bunker, because the outside world is a toxic wasteland. The only people he’s ever really interacted with are his parents Ted and April (Played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams).His whole life revolves around a children’s show, Brigsby Bear, that arrives every day on a cassette one episode at time. His room is filled with every episode and other Brigsby memorabilia. He does vlogs on the show and talks about them with others on an internet forum. He lives in an 80s post-apocalypse and this show is what gives his life meaning.
Except that’s not really the world he lives in. It turns out James actually lives in the present day real world and the people who raised him actually kidnapped him as a baby from his real parents. The Brigsby show was made by Ted (formerly a notable children’s entertainer) everyday in a warehouse as a way to educate, placate, entertain and control James. It would teach him advanced math, how curiosity is bad and that you shouldn’t masturbate more than twice a day.
James is rescued in a police raid early on, and the movie is about what happens next as James struggles to adjust to the real world. Sure Ted and April kidnapped him as an infant and made him live in a bunker, but they’re also the only parents he’s ever known. They never abused him beyond that; he describes them as “boring.” He’s an adult at this point, although completely underdeveloped socially. Now he has to learn to live with his real family, they have to learn how to live with him and the reality of what’s happened.
This is super difficult material, and easily could have gone wrong in a million different ways. I can easily imagine a world where this was an insufferable story. Instead it’s great, and it walks the tightrope perfectly.
A big key to that is that basically everyone in the story in nice. For a pretty dark fucked up premise the movie still feels light and uplifting because everyone wants what’s best for James, even when they’re acting against him. The conflict comes from people trying to put him into the box they think he should be in instead of letting him be himself. Whether that comes in the form of his kidnappers who forced him to live in an underground bunker, or his real parents who desperately wish he could be a normal kid.
Literally all of James’s life has revolved around Brigsby, it’s really all he cares about. He’s a huge obsessive nerd about a TV show that only he’s ever seen. When he learns that Ted was the one making the show he’s actually stoked.: His dad, well “dad,” made Brigsby! Amazing! But that also means that there will ever be anymore Brigsby since Ted is in prison, him and April having confessed completely.
To try and get him into fiction that wasn’t made by a captor to control him, his parents take him to the movies and he’s pretty blown away by the theater experience. This coalesces into the driving plot of the movie with James deciding that he needs to make the Brigsby movie to finish the story.
This is a movie about making movies that’s in love with movies. It’s about working with your friends to make a movie just because you’ve got a story you need to tell. It’s about being passionate about something no one else cares about. About the joys of low budget production, stuff that’s so bad it’s good, and a distillation of the inherent creepiness and charm of kids programming.
It’s a great ride and really unlike any other movie I’ve seen. I highly recommend giving it a watch.