Review: Finding Kraftland

Never have I been so forcibly thrown into a documentary as I was with "Finding Kraftland" (IMDb listing). It's a determined vanity piece that doesn't spare a single moment, spastically dunking the viewer's head into the world of the titular wonderland, forgoing formality to best introduce the audience to the unhinged personalities they are about to meet.

Richard Kraft is a film and theater composer agent with a zest for life that borders on mania. The man has spent his life collecting pop culture minutiae and swallowing the pursuit of pleasure whole with each new passion. Tagging along for the ride is his teenage son, Nicky, who is equally outgoing and theatrical when the camera is around. Together, their three-ring-circus life as thrill-seeking collectors has inspired friends, entertained loved ones, and instilled the two men with a devotion to the sweeter moments of amusement.

Hosted by Stacey Aswad, "Finding Kraftland" doesn't have a traditional documentary structure, preferring to employ homage to the Disney theme park vacation videos as the way to handhold the viewer into this overwhelming world. It's a countdown structure, each number a chapter in the life of the Krafts as they play hard, dream big, and spread love.

Part of me enjoyed this method to cinematically track a life story. By trimming the fat of set-up, directors Adam Shell and Richard Kraft can breeze through a life that's, well, a shrine to breezing through life. The picture is restless, blazing past topics and a wonderful assortment of retro film and television clips to stitch together a loose-fitting portrait of the Krafts.

Of course, using such velocity leaves the film winded at the wrong moments. After being given the "Clockwork Orange" treatment for the opening of the film, it takes a full 23 minutes before we are even allowed to know what Richard Kraft does for a living. Composers such a Danny Elfman, John Ottman, and Marc Shaiman (who provides a silly production number about Richard's agent skills) lavish praise and yucks about the man, but it doesn't mean anything until we get that crucial piece of vocational information. Only when Richard is established does the film begin to warm up; the audience now armed with the tools to best appreciate Richard's contributions to film music and how he can fund his vast collection of knick-knacks.

The Kraftland of the title is Richard's home in California, where's he amassed an assortment of amazing toys, games, and er ... junk that packs every room in the house. There are board games, bubble bath containers, movie memorabilia (the guy has Pee-Wee's bike, for heaven's sake), and the piece de resistance of the home, a phenomenal menagerie of Disneyland artifacts that would make the average Disneyphile green with envy (I know I was). Richard's obsessive collecting habits have led him to build his Xanadu, much to the amusement and fear of his friends.

The house is amazing to behold, and Richard is not shy about parading the toys, models, and former pieces of Disney attractions out for the camera to capture. The movie is a valentine to bloated financial pursuits, but Richard's wild personality softens the blow of arrogance, and the viewer is free to enjoy the thrill of the hunt with the Krafts.

That is, until a peculiar scene where Richard goes to meet one of his larger purchases: a Mike Fink Keel Boat from Disneyland. In this short aside, Richard goes from a lovable Peter Pan to an arrogant gloater. I applaud the directors for having the bravery to include this moment of piercing candor, adding needed dimension to Richard's sometimes toxic energy.

The film steps away from the collecting for two occasions. The first is to detail Richard's relationship with Nicky, and how the two have formed an unbreakable bond over the years. It's an unusually sturdy friendship; a "Gilmore Guys" without the snappy interplay, but with more attention paid to expensive entertainment pursuits. The duo are inseparable as home movies are shown of their annual roller coaster world tour, a jaunt to the "Vomit Comet" zero gravity airplane, and a variety of birthday celebrations, where Richard goes bonkers dreaming up theme nights to party with his friends and son.

The second aside is more grave. Losing his beloved brother David to the ravages of Crohn's Disease, Richard has made it his mission to support local charities engaged in the fight against this illness. Footage of David is included, slowing the film down to pay respects to the adored family member, along with Richard's mother and father, who shaped his life and hobbies. Richard is also involved with various other charities, taking him to the four corners of the globe in his effort to lend a hand.

The bitter truth is, "Finding Kraftland" was created and more suited for friends and family of the Krafts; it plays to the idiosyncrasies only insiders would appreciate, and depicts familial idolatry that comes deep from within the Kraft heart. Regardless of relationship, the contact high of merriment is strong in "Finding Kraftland," and it's a treat to witness a man who still can connect with his childlike sense of marvel without those pesky roadblocks of shame that keep the rest of us from enjoying the colorful toys of yesterday and today.

Filmfodder Grade: B+