/Answers: Favorite Movie Mentor

best movie mentors

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. This week’s edition asks “Who is your favorite movie mentor?” As always, we have submissions from the /Film writing crew and podcast team. This week, we are also joined by Cars 3 director Brian Fee.

If you’d like to share your pick for your favorite movie mentor, please send your thoughts to slashfilmpitches@gmail.com for a chance to be featured on the site. Find our choices below!

Brian Fee: Paul Newman in The Color of Money

What he got out of it is not what he expected. Right? There’s reasonings for how he started. The transformation he went through in the process is that’s what’s interesting to me. When you get out of it something you didn’t expect.

Peter Sciretta: Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

I tried to resist, but yes, I’m going to go with the obvious answer for this edition of /Answers. I don’t think there is a movie mentor that I have quoted more from throughout my life than Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back. “Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.” “Judge me by my size, do you?” “Wars not make one great.” And, of course, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” There are so many great things about Yoda. I love the idea that wisdom and training can come from not only the most powerful looking warriors, but also a small green old alien living in the swamp. (I must mention I was also strongly considering Mister Miyagi from The Karate Kid, which follows the same character troupe.)

As a big fan of the Muppets, I also love the masterful practical puppeteering and voice work by the legendary Frank Oz, who brought the character to life. I’m not as much of a fan of the prequel era Yoda, who is computer animated and often talks in backwards rhymes for almost no reason. I think I like the idea of Yoda as an old hermit living in the swamps of Dagobah rather than him holding council at the Jedi headquarters.

Jacob Hall: Mickey in Rocky

There is no bullshit in Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the coarse, blue collar trainer to Sylvester Stallone’s amateur boxer, Rocky Balboa. He’s a tough guy living in a tough city, a seasoned professional who has seen fighters come and go and can’t help but be furious when he sees the “Italian Stallion” wasting his talents as a two-bit crook. Mickey is not one for big speeches or words of kindness or encouragement – he’s all about hard work. He’s not magical. He doesn’t have the answers you want. But he will scream in your ear until you find whatever the hell you need deep within yourself to get the job done.

The later Rocky movies find Mickey hitting more familiar and traditional beats, but I’m a big fan of his depiction in the original 1976 masterpiece. Like the rest of the film, he’s specific enough to feel universal, a character so lived-in and rough around the edges that you wonder if he somehow stepped right out of an old Philadelphia boxing gym and on to the screen.


Hoai-Train Bui: Ursula in Kiki’s Delivery Service

It says something about the state of movies that there are barely any female movie mentors, and says something more that you have to look across the Pacific Ocean at animated films to find one. And no, I didn’t choose Ursula, the idiosyncratic painter from Kiki’s Delivery Service, as my favorite movie mentor because she fit these two sets of criteria (although they helped). I chose her because she gave some sage advice to a struggling young witch who had set out to live apart from her family, that resonated with me as a 10-year-old girl and resonates with me even more now.

Ursula is a solitary painter who the naive witch Kiki runs into on one of her misadventures early on in her flying delivery service. At first terse with Kiki, Ursula slowly becomes one of her closest friends, and is there to advise her when Kiki loses her ability to fly. It’s one of my favorite exchanges from the movie. Ursula recounts to Kiki the time when she, once so passionate about painting, got painter’s block and wasn’t able to paint anything that wasn’t a poor copy of something greater.

“But then I found the answer,” Ursula said. “You see, I hadn’t figured out what or why I wanted to paint. I had to discover my own style. When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you, don’t you?”

“Uh-huh,” Kiki responded. “We fly with our spirit.”

“Trusting your spirit, yeah yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That same spirit is what makes me paint, and makes your friend bake. But we each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.”

It’s a wonderfully mundane answer to an elevated, magical situation because at its heart, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a simple coming-of-age story. As a young child without many worries or responsibilities, it had blown my mind when Ursula explained it, but it’s advice that I still have to return to even now. When we’re weighed down by anxieties or stress, we just have to find our own inspiration.

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