Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few decades, you’ve probably heard of It’s a Wonderful Life. Having been made and screened in the 1940’s, having aired every Christmas Season since NBC managed to obtain the rights to it, and having been mercilessly parodied by everything else, you can’t escape it unless you *really* try.
The movie’s alright. It has a very satisfying third act, the actors do a very good job, and there’s some clever dialogue patching up the story. If it weren’t for the terrible job done with the first act, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it deserves its status as a Christmas Classic. I’d go into detail as to what went wrong with the First Act, but since that’s not what this post is about, I’ll abbreviate:
- Basically, while I *get* that the movie completely depends on the hour-and-a-half first act to properly convey to the audience how things have changed in the third Act as Bailey runs confusedly though the city, it doesn’t change the fact that you leave an audience sitting there for the entire time, wondering what the point of any of this is, and you can’t justify that by simply pointing out how it comes together in the end.
But you know, it’s funny. As much as I rag on about Wonderful Life, the plot, setting, and indeed even the overriding themes are very similar to my favorite movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, the Anime movie that aired in early February in 2010, with its English release having been managed to come out late that year.
Well, let’s go through a rundown….
- Plot: Wonderful Life: A man named George Bailey, having grown despondent and suicidal by a life that continually tries to make him suffer, suddenly finds himself in a world where he never existed, and realizes that such a world is infinitely worse without him. Having found the meaning to his life, he is given the resolve to keep on living.
Disappearance: A High School student named Kyon, having grown tired and embittered by a girl that continually makes him suffer, suddenly finds himself in a world where they never met, and realizes that he’s not sure what his life means when she’s not around. Eventually, he’s forced to reevaluate his place in the world, and ultimately, decide whether he prefers the old world or this new one he’s found himself in.
The Deviations: Well, the obvious difference is in the focus. WL spends most of its story in its first act, showing the normal world with George in it, and then eventually showing us a world without him. Disp., on the other hand, spends only a 1/3 of the movie in the normal world (1/6 at the beginning, 1/6 at the end) and the rest is spent with Kyon trying to understand his place in this new world. The other big difference is in the fact that in WL, George himself is the one that gets displaced, whereas in Disp., Haruhi is the one removed.
- Setting: WL: At Christmas, in and around a town comprised of colorful characters who all have been affected by Bailey in various ways for having known him. Every scene takes place in memorable locales, with evidence provided to show us how they’ve changed.
Disp: At Christmas, in and around a High School comprised of colorful characters who all have been affected by Haruhi in various ways for having known her. Every scene takes place in memorable locales, with evidence provided to show us how they’ve changed.
Deviations: One comprises a whole town. The other a High School. There’s also some Time Travel in Disappearance.
- Themes: WL: George Bailey is forced to reevaluate the value of his life after being thrust into a world drastically different from the one he knows. He’s also reminded how important his friends are to him, and indeed, how important he is to them.
Disp: Kyon is forced to reevaluate the value of the world after being thrust into a world drastically different from the one he knows. He’s also reminded how important his friends are to him, and indeed, how much he depends on them.
Deviations: Unfortunately, explaining the big deviation in Themes requires spoiling the big reveal towards the end of Disappearance, which I don’t intend to do here. Even still, though, the other big difference involves the main characters. In WL, there’s no doubt that the world without George is worse off than the world with him, but in Disp., Kyon ends up having a serious crisis based solely around wondering whether the world he’s found himself in is actually better than the world he came from.
I’m not sure I could convince myself that Wonderful Life is better for these comparisons, but it does present an interesting thought.