Wednesday, December 2, 2015


(This is an old one, that apparently never got published from drafts. Enjoy.)

The Peanuts are an ancient and hallowed property that has been mined deeply, and is dear to many of our hearts. Hearing that there is a new feature film really leans on that nostalgia button, but also triggers a lot of trepidation. How can you possibly make it fresh without betraying what makes it great?

Well, I don't know that I have the answer, but the guys at Blue Sky certainly do. I won't proclaim this movie as a wonderful film in its own right. But the way in which the production team navigated the truly dangerous waters of honoring the legacy while taking it in a new direction was genius.

The film opens with a number of the expected tropes. It's a snow day. Charlie Brown has the "brilliant" idea to fly his kite on a snow day, because the Kite-Eating Tree is asleep for the winter. Things do not go as planned, in exactly the way you expect. Cue cries of "WAUUUGHH", "Good grief", and "You blockhead".

Oh, hello little red-haired girl. What a shock to see you introduced. Oh, hey, Snoopy does a bit as his writer character, a bit chasing the Red Baron, and even dresses up as Joe Cool. We see the other kids parade past, putting in their classic lines. At the half hour mark, I'm pretty thoroughly bored.

Then something truly amazing happens. Charlie Brown wins something (I won't give away what). He becomes popular and respected. It is unexpected and wonderful. It really changes the whole dynamic of the group. (I especially loved Lucy's utter inability to shift her mental gears.) Of course, as must happen, the victory cannot last. Turning the lovable loser into the top dog violates the formula. But the way that defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory is really remarkable. It not only feels right, but it reveals Charlie Brown as a man of character. (After all, character comes from adversity, and who has had more adversity?)

There is another scene in which Charlie Brown sacrifices a great deal in order to save the day for his sister, Sally. It is very touching. And it's nice to see the way that it pays off in the way that other people see him.

Does Charlie Brown get the little red haired girl in the end? Does Snoopy get the Red Baron? Does Peppermint Patty manage to get through a class without falling asleep? I will leave these questions for you to discover. I will say, though, that I found this to be a more satisfying story than most of the TV specials.

Another important element to the Peanuts property, of course, is the wonderful line work that made Schulz famous. Most of his characters are a couple simple shapes with squiggles for faces. And yet, those squiggles were so very expressive. How do you translate that line work into computer rendered three-dimensional figures? The answer was both simple and amazing. The bodies of each character were done in fairly standard computer animation. But the faces were left blank. Then, the artist would draw in the faces using the classic Schulz lines. I will admit that there were a few times when it looked a little weird. But when it worked, it combined the best of modern animation with the Peanuts faces that we know so well.

Should you see it? Honestly, I'm not sure it's worth the theater prices, unless you're a huge Peanuts fan. There was nothing about it that needed the big screen. But eventually? Oh, yeah, this is one you should make time for. Put it in your Netflix queue. Pull it up when you need a good old-fashioned dose of optimism. Because it will definitely make you feel good.

No comments:

Post a Comment