Friday, November 13, 2015

The Peanuts Movie Review

The Peanuts comic strips never were my favorite, I'd always read Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield first in the funny papers. The many animated Peanuts TV specials were cute and certainly had their charm, but were hardly things I'd go out of my way to see. When I heard about The Peanuts Movie (2015) and that it was being CGI animated in 3D, the only response I could think of was "Good Grief." But then I saw the trailer and got to see the animation in action, as well as a hint at the storyline. Only then did I become excited about it. Not only did it turn out to be really good, but it held so true to its source material that you'd think that Peanuts cartoonist, Chales M. Shultz, had a hand in making it!
Life always seems complicated for good ol' Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp), the boy who always tries his best against seemingly impossible odds. When the Little Red-Haired Girl moves into his neighborhood, Charlie Brown develops a crush on her. He is hoping to shed his former reputation and reinvent himself as a more confident person, and start over with a clean slate in the eyes of the Little Red-Haired Girl. Meanwhile, his best friend Snoopy takes to writing an epic adventure in a fantasy world. As a World War I flying ace, the lovable beagle pursues his nemesis, the Red Baron, while also trying to win the heart of a beautiful poodle named Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth).
 I cannot speak highly enough about the animation. I really was expecting a bunch of creative or even crazy camera shots and 3D gimmicks to showcase how diligent the computer animators were while making the movie. Boy was I wrong. There was a great deal of flat staging used in The Peanuts Movie, which is to say most camera angles and movements were eye-level with the characters and were flush with the background. This made nearly any given shot resemble a 2D panel in the comic strip or cartoon TV special. Furthermore, while the animation was smooth, it wasn't fluid. This was intentional though; some of the subtle jerkiness in animation was meant to emulate the subtle jerkiness and movement of the 2D animation that was so beloved in the old TV specials. There were even the lines added here and there like what was done in the comics and TV specials, such as the dotted lines that follows Woodstock's erratic flying, lines following a character who dashes off screen to illustrate their speed, or squiggly lines above a characters head to suggest dizziness. Yes, it was digitally animated; but the brilliant lighting, color scheme, and camera work made the animation resemble the classic feel of the comics and TV specials and the similarities are positively uncanny. It's almost as if you were watching an old Charlie Brown cartoon with moving puff stickers or something. It's difficult to fully express what the animation is like. Take a moment to watch the trailer here to get a good look for yourself:


As is the case with most of the Peanuts storylines, there isn't a villain or an antagonist to defeat. It's just a bunch of kids, experiencing life and learning from their experiences. Charlie Brown is a guy who, in the face of repeated failure, picks himself back up and tries again. Truly, that is no small task. Everyday qualities of perseverance, to pick yourself back up with a positive attitude, are more admirable and down to earth than seeing an action hero save the world. The story here feels very real and is something that people can relate to, regardless of their age. It's not a struggle against a bad guy, it's a struggle of self respect and improvement. Nevertheless, there is a sense of urgency and finite time available that gives the movie a bit of an exciting edge. The Peanuts Movie remains as sweet and innocent as ever while still being relatable to a broad age range.
One of my favorite scenes is the opening scene where we're introduced to the whole cast. Because of the robust number of Peanuts characters, the movie didn't need to introduce any new ones. The opening scene shows us things like Sally trying to flirt with Linus (her "Sweet Babboo"), Charlie Brown is thwarted by the Kite-Eating Tree, Lucy calls Charlie Brown a blockhead, the kids go ice skating, and Snoopy tries to run off with Linus's blanket among other familiar bits. Throughout the movie we see other common Peanuts gags, such as Charlie Brown trying to play baseball, Schroeder playing the piano and appreciating Beethoven, Snoopy imagining himself as a WWI flying ace and writing a novel, references to The Great Pumpkin, hanging out next to a brick wall, and Lucy's Psychiatry Booth (my favorite). We came to the end of the movie and hadn't had Lucy hold a football for Charlie Brown to kick, but even that was included in one of the two mid-credit scenes. This movie has essentially everything that makes Peanuts what it is; it feels like a classic Peanuts cartoon, leaving nothing out.
The Peanuts Movie is a terrific big-screen version of the classic comics and TV specials that should satisfy Peanuts fans and generate new ones. This movie feels familiar, even cozy. I never was a big fan of Peanuts, but this movie feels like the return of an old friend. It perfectly pays homage to its source material, including everything that gives Peanuts its charm, and adding nothing to detract from it. The Peanuts Movie works because it's simple. At no point was it trying to sell a toy, sell comic books, or be any cooler than it actually is. Adults will absolutely find The Peanuts Movie delightful and charming, but the comedy and message will still ring true for kids. It's not just an all-ages crowd-pleaser, this would be the perfect first feature for a preschooler. I firmly believe that Charles M. Schultz would have been immensely pleased with this movie. This is worth seeing in theaters if you've ever enjoyed Peanuts to even the smallest degree. In fact, I'd encourage you to do so, it's the kind of film we want to encourage studios to keep making.

What's a newspaper comic strip you would like to see a movie made out of with the love and care that The Peanuts Movie was? I'd LOVE to see a good Calvin and Hobbes movie. Comment below and tell me what you think!

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