Imagine a bar with an indoor lagoon. Now imagine that it rains, indoors every half hour. It’s not just a flight of fancy, it’s the Tonga Room, a classic restaurant and tiki bar in the Fairmont San Francisco hotel. Named after the South Pacific nation of Tonga, it is an eye-popping example of high-style Tiki that has been igniting the imaginations of customers for more than seventy five years.
Designed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s leading set director, it is the tropical paradise Anthony Bourdain called, “the greatest place in the history of the world.”
Learn about the invention of Tiki, the California Gold Rush and the Tonga Room HERE!
Chances are you saw the footage on the news. On November 15, 2013 San Francisco transformed into Gotham-By-the-Bay as Batkid, accompanied by Batman, rescued a damsel in distress, threw the Riddler in jail and saved Lou Seal, the Mascot of the San Francisco Giants, from the grips of Criminal Mastermind the Penguin.
It was Make-A-Wish’s largest ever event, a city-wide happening to grant five-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott’s request to be a superhero for a day. The Batkid—who was still in diapers when he was diagnosed with leukemia—drew crowds in the tens of thousands, earned a twitter message from President Obama and was given the key to the city by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
London, Ontario-born software engineer Mike Jutan was given a front row seat to the action when his friend, inventor and acrobat Eric Johnson, asked him to play Gotham’s greatest villain The Penguin.
“Eric Johnston asked, ‘What are you doing on November 15… just say yes.’ So I said yes and then asked him what I just agreed to.
“As a good Canadian boy I like peppering community service stuff in amongst the many things I already do,” says Jutan, who now lives in San Fran and works for Industrial Light and Magic. “I always thought I’d like to do something with Make-A-Wish.”
A new documentary, Batkid Begins, details how the event bloomed from a small experience into a heart-warming media sensation.
“To me it was exciting it was getting big because I think it is inspiring to other people. As it got bigger and bigger I felt like we had a responsibility to stand for what Make-A-Wish stands for but also stick a big flag in the ground as the city of San Francisco and say, ‘This is the most insane, crazy thing that can happen when people work together, when people skip work on a Friday for the good of a little kid.’”
To prepare to play The Penguin Jutan “started obsessively watching the 1960s Batman. I watched them over and over and over, studied Burgess Meredith’s character to get the walk down and the laugh and some of his quips. I wanted to get an idea of his personality so any die hard Batman fans there would also enjoy it,” but, he adds, “our only real goal was to make sure Miles had a great wish and that we succeeded in helping him save Gotham.”
The cynical film critic in me feels obliged to point out that “Batkid Begins,” the documentary about a young cancer survivor who wanted to be a superhero for a day, is about as deep as a lunch tray. But as I type those words it’s through tired eyes, my peepers watery and bleary as a result of the documentary’s feel good emotional rollercoaster.
At the center of the story is Miles Scott, a northern Californian boy still in diapers when he was diagnosed with leukemia. The lively little boy underwent daily, then weekly chemotherapy and by the time he was five was in remission. Enter the San Francisco Make-A-Wish Foundation who asked Miles what he wanted to make himself feel better. “I wish I could be Batkid.”
Before you could say, “Holy make-a-wish Batman,” Miles’s request ballooned into a city wide event that saw San Fran become Gotham by the Bay as Batkid, accompanied by Batman (acrobat and all round swell guy Eric Johnston) rescued a damsel in distress (Sue Graham Johnston), threw the Riddler (Philip Watt) in jail and saved Lou Seal, the Mascot of the San Francisco Giants, from the grips of Criminal Mastermind the Penguin (Mike Jutan). In what became the most elaborate Make-A-Wish stunt ever, the Batkid drew crowds in the tens of thousands, earned a twitter message from President Obama and was given the key to the city by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
“Batkid Begins” isn’t a hard-hitting documentary from a news point of view. Occasionally it plays like an ad for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, given the good work they do is fine by me. It is, however, hard hitting on an emotional level. It’s one of those stories that shows people at their best and reaffirms your faith in humanity. Don’t expect an in-depth look into why tens of thousands of people took the day off work to support Miles—the movie suggests it was an out of control social media campaign—or anything much about what happened to Miles when the crowds went home. Instead director Kurt Kuenne lays out the story via a minute-by-minute timeline, by and large following the action in a linear way. Could there have been a deeper, more meaningful movie made about San Francisco’s outpouring of love for Batkid? Absolutely. Would the emotional impact of the story been heightened? Probably not.