In Dear Ike: Lost Letters to a Teen Idol, writer/director Dion Labriola goes into his past to tell the story of his obsession as a teen to meet his favorite actor. I’ve come to enjoy documentaries that do not necessarily have an overt grand message about humanity but instead tell small stories of hope and coming of age.
As a young boy growing up in Ohio, Labriola dreamed of being an animator and telling science-fiction stories. He wrote a story about a boy landing on an alien planet. Feeling like he doesn’t belong, the boy is befriended by a giant owl named Simon Oe. It is Labriola’s dream to one day make that movie.
After watching Disney’s classic Escape to Witch Mountain, he became a massive fan of lead child actor Ike Eisenmann, who played Tony. Labriola thought Eisenmann would be perfect in the lead role of his film and began writing letter after letter after letter to Eisenmann. Dear Ike: Lost Letters to a Teen Idol goes through Labriola’s research process to track down any address for his hero as his letter to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) was returned. Labriola’s obsession kicked up another notch while reading a teen magazine interview when Eisenmann confesses that he wants to study art and one day become an animator himself and work for Disney. The two were destined to work together, or so thought our filmmaker.
“…thought Eisenmann would be perfect in the lead role of his film and began writing letter after letter after letter…”
After years of no response from Eisenmann, Labriola gave up tracking the actor down and went on with his life. He attended art school, got work, and then moved to L.A., looking for his big break. Then kismet happened.
Again, documentaries don’t have to be grand in scale, and Dear Ike: Lost Letters to a Teen Idol falls into the human interest category. Labriola does a fantastic job of telling his story. Though I used the word “obsession” a lot, we’ve all been there dreaming and scheming our way to meeting our celebrity crush (ironically, after seeing Escape to Witch Mountain, mine was Kim Richards). He is quite open about the lengths he went to meet Eisenmann and how his love of art and animation helped him survive being a closeted gay teen in the 1980s.
In case you’re wondering, Eisenmann does appear in the documentary early on, which does spoil the ending. I think it could have been held off to the end, but I’m not a filmmaker by trade. Either way, it makes for a great “where are they now” tale not to be missed. Though Labriola’s story is told quite well, there is a surprising full circle moment you don’t see coming that makes Dear Ike: Lost Letters to a Teen Idol worth watching. We’re also treated to a few animated scenes from Labriola’s story he wrote as a child with a not-so-surprising actor voicing the lead. It is just so sweet and charming.
Watch Dear Ike: Lost Letters to a Teen Idol on the PBS website.
"…there is a surprising full circle moment you don’t see coming..."