Insomniac Theater: ‘The Peanuts Movie’

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

“Peanuts” movie review: Adventure worthy of the old gang.

Like the comic strips that ran in newspapers for fifty years the plot is boiled down to its essence. “The family’s policy was that we were never going to do a movie,” says Craig Schulz, the late cartoonist’s son, who runs a charter-flight company out of Santa Rosa, Calif. “We didn’t want to run the risk of doing a bad movie.Maybe the Peanuts gang hasn’t been on the big screen in decades because they’ve had so much success on the small one, with specials like “The Great Pumpkin” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that have been annual TV traditions since the 1960s.At first, “The Peanuts Movie” seems like a highlight reel of old favorites: Charlie Brown getting tangled in string as he tries to fly a kite, Lucy calling him a blockhead, Sally swooning over Linus, her “sweet Babboo.” But the new animated movie also allows Charlie to enter a sort of blissful bizarro world where he is a winner and school celebrity.Late last week, in a transparent promotional ploy conveniently tied to Halloween, the cast of The Today Show dressed up as characters from The Peanuts Movie.

He is hailed as a genius, his sister capitalizes on his popularity by selling souvenir mugs and T-shirts with his signature black zigzag, and everyone suddenly wants to be his friend. “Do they like me for who I am or who they think I am?” he asks, before his fortunes threaten to flip again, possibly dashing his hopes to befriend the little red-haired girl. Photos quickly spread across the Internet, accompanied by disbelieving qualifiers like “horrid” and “awful” and “nightmarish.” There was Al Roker as Charlie Brown, Matt Lauer in a huge purple-blue dress as Lucy, Kathie Lee Gifford in an overstuffed yellow suit as Woodstock the bird, and so on. The filmmakers take advantage of their cinematic scope with a bigger story, more sophisticated animation and effective use of 3-D that gives new depth to the Peanuts world.

In this Paul Feig-produced movie the herky-jerky animation of the cartoons we grew up with is replaced with state of the art computer imagery but all the other familiar elements are comfortably in place. But the characters loved by generations of fans — Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock and beloved blockhead Charlie Brown — are as charming and timeless as ever. The question is: Can today’s fully digitized children relate to Charlie Brown and his friends, whose circa-1950s universe is entirely analog and computer-free, a world where “play” is associated not with PlayStation but playground?

Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy piano score tinkles on the soundtrack, Linus’ blanket still provides security, Lucy has attitude and Charlie Brown is still a heaving mass of pre-adolescent insecurities. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”) directs a script by creator Charles Schulz’s son and grandson along with a third writer, and this time, the movie was produced with the help of computer animation. It’s also in 3-D, which lends depth to flying scenes with a love-struck Snoopy, poodle pilot Fifi and the dreaded Red Baron, but is not worth the extra couple of dollars if you’re on a budget. Meanwhile Snoopy (Bill Melendez from original archival audio from the original television shows) has fantasy battles with the Red Baron for the affections of a pretty beagle named Fifi.

The animators said these were the hardest characters to draw, even though they look simple.” They opted for the animation style of the late Bill Melendez, who created the “Peanuts” animated cartoons. They also refused to bring the gang into the 21st century — no cellphones here, just the old-fashioned kind. “I never really say what my father would think, but with the amount of excitement this movie has generated worldwide and the amount of love that has been shown for the comic strip, [it] would have blown him away,” Craig says. “He was like Charlie Brown. Adorably mean Lucy van Pelt (Hadley Belle Miller) still calls him “blockhead” and always pulls the football away at the last second, and Charlie has still never flown any of the many kites he has sacrificed to the kite-eating tree in his idyllic, suburban neighborhood. It’s rated G and, best of all, has some positive messages about what makes Charlie Brown a true winner, and it has nothing to do with gold stars and coveted trophies.

Schulz’s beloved characters had been exposed to some ungodly nuclear fallout, been irreparably mutated and skittered howling and half-molten out of our anguished nightmares and onto America’s television screens. Even a “wild” chase scene at a talent show is slow down to kid-friendly speed, as is the old-school values of the strip: project confidence, don’t slouch.

Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) calls “tomboyish” Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) “sir” while Patty calls Charlie “Chuck.” Pig-Pen (AJ Tecce) still wears a nimbus of whirling, brown dirt. There’s a tendency, I think, to believe that nostalgia preserves things: that it’s a kind of shellac safeguarding memories of things we care about. Schulz’s stories were always more about heart than actual plot and that is amply on display here but a shortage of story means the film occasionally feels padded out with Red Baron versus Snoopy sequences and music montages to reach the ninety minute mark.

She and the other women and girls, sometimes subjected to unwanted sexual advances from the leering boss, put in longer hours than the men and yet are paid less. Those who dare to advocate for “Votes for women!” are met with ridicule, scorn, government surveillance, violence and imprisonment. “Suffragettte” tells the story of how the British women won the right to vote by taking to the streets, breaking windows, cutting telegraph wires, blowing up postal boxes or the occasional house, going on hunger strikes in prison and being force-fed with crude funnels and tubes and sacrificing everything from husband, children, home and job to — in one stunning case — her very life. While it’s naive to expect that any media property would stand exempt from the relentless grind of rebooting and revival (and perhaps especially a property as thoroughly franchised as the Peanuts comics), there’s something sad about seeing a character as sweet and simple as good ol’ Charlie Brown so totally ruined. She is an accidental activist, pressed into testifying when a co-worker’s face is too bruised from domestic violence to do so, while Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) was an actual pioneer who formed the Women’s Social and Political Union and rallied the troops with her speeches and actions. These sequences are distinguished by more realistic background animation — snowy mountains and grassy landscapes that look more like the world outside the movie theater.

There’s also a bloated subplot involving Snoopy the dog pretending to be a pilot battling the notorious Red Baron, chopped into the screenplay as a way of showcasing the film’s special effects. Although computer animation has always struck me as a soulless, inhuman craft, the technicians at Fox-owned Blue Sky Studios have retained something of the pleasing crudity of Schulz’s drawings.

After her churlish response to a surprise party, she tells her best friend, Jess (Drew Barrymore): “If another person looks at me with sad eyes and says, ‘Oh, you look so well, Milly,’ I am going to projectile vomit.” Breast cancer is just one of the boxes “Miss You Already” checks as it aims squarely at female moviegoers. Collette, who shaved her head to play Milly, has the showier role and makes the most of the wild, often selfish swings her character endures — even if they leave the audience with emotional whiplash.

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