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Entries in Peanuts Movie/The [2015] (1)

Tuesday
Nov172015

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

I'd Like to Buy the World Some Peanuts

"Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box. Religion is the smile on a dog."

--Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that shook Paris on Friday, a symbol appeared on-line that I'd like to think would have made Charles Schulz proud: a white peace sign painted against a black background, with a well-placed horizontal line just below the three-way vertical split forming a makeshift Eiffel Tower. This hasty, haunting reverse-silhouette carried the urgency of a street-art SOS, calling out to the world, "We're hurt. We're scared. But we're going to get through this together."

I caught up with The Peanuts Movie a week late, at precisely the moment, it turns out, that several groups of lunatics were shooting, bombing, and hostage-taking their way into history. Steve Martino's adaptation of Schulz's comic strip so enraptured me that I thought nothing would (or could) kill my vibe of optimism and unbound joy. Then I checked Facebook. And CNN. And the myriad other stops on the digital rabbit hole that clutter our already sketchy info landscape after Earth-shattering events.

There's no room for despondency. That's the lesson of The Peanuts Movie. Like Minions, it's an eighty-five minute gag montage propelled by adorable silliness that supports a napkin-simple story: perpetual third-grader Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) wants to ask out the new girl in school, known only as The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). Innate clumsiness has created such low self-esteem in our hero that he not only can't work up the nerve to say "hi", he also seeks 5-cent psychiatric counseling from neighborhood bully, Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller). Despite teasing from his friends, pranks by his mischievous dog, Snoopy (Bill Melendez), and a self-image that borders on masochism, Charlie persists in learning ways to boost his confidence while sticking to a code of honesty and community.

I imagine the temptation for re-introducing a sixty-five-year-old brand to modern audiences involves re-shaping the characters to be more like the people buying tickets (perhaps described more accurately: those for whom the tickets are being bought). The Peanuts Movie is admirably adamant in its reverence for Schulz's vision, and it helps that Cornelius Uliano co-wrote the screenplay with Schulz's son, Craig, and grandson, Bryan. The filmmakers dress their stage in the comparatively timeless trappings of courtesy and corded phones, of notepads and typewriters--eschewing LOLs and iPads.

The Peanuts kids are still recognizable as kids, and they're also recognizable as Schulz's creations--even with their lush, 3D-model makeovers. Martino's team exercises restraint in their use of technology, hewing closely to the side-scrolling animation aesthetic of the 1960s prime-time specials, while occasionally breaking form with some truly breathtaking fantasy sequences. Characters' memories and inner monologues appear as animated black-and-white ink drawings encapsulated in 2D thought balloons, and I'm happy to report that the side-by-side comparison is harmonious, not jarring.

The film's only crime (and this may just be generational bias) is the under-use of Vince Guaraldi's iconic score (composed here by Christophe Beck). Included briefly as a branding item, it's quickly tossed aside in favor of contemporary pop songs that will likely be forgotten by the time The Peanuts Movie hits home video. There's nothing wrong with the songs, per se, but they feel utterly out of place in a film that otherwise doesn't bother pandering to an audience for whom Charlie Brown and his gang might not even register on the pop-relevance meter.

Running parallel to Charlie Brown's struggles is Snoopy's fantasy rescue mission involving the legendary World War I flying ace The Red Baron, and an eye-batting Parisian poodle named Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth, whose puzzling star-power-to-screen-time ratio rivals George Clooney's appearance in the South Park movie). As Snoopy, perched atop his little red dog house, pursues the Baron's fighter plane above the City of Light and circles the Eiffel Tower, Martino and company blow out the contrast between the Peanuts gang's comparatively flat real world and the high-flying, tactile, ultra-vibrant dreamscapes of imagination. Here, everything is epic stakes and grandeur, and no problem exists that can't be overcome with determination, brains, and love.

The Peanuts Movie is just about perfect, a big-hearted, technically flawless movie that caps off a year marked by a new breed of powerful family film. It's not cynical, it's not flashy, and it calls upon those who watch it to harken back to the innocence and earnestness that made childhood such a golden place in our hearts. Sadly, not everyone in the world has the opportunity to grow up with friends, teachers, and lazy-day snowball fights. Our planet is lousy with poverty, war, disease, and too many other daily struggles that keep millions of people from even conceiving of a better life. Unknowingly, Martino, Uliano, and the Schulzes have given us a road map to help heal the world--if we're ready and willing to follow it.

This film is a template for understanding, a call for those who aren't hurting to extend compassion to those who are, and for those who are hurting to never quit on themselves (or others). That's only a corny, Kumbaya notion for people who've already succumbed to cynicism and despair. Charlie Brown learned that believing in his own ability to give and receive love was the first step in making great things happen for himself and the imperfect gang of squabbling kids with whom he shares his little neighborhood. Is ours really that much bigger?