Friday, November 13, 2015

The Peanuts Movie (2015)

Film: The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Stars: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez, Alex Garfin, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, Kristin Chenoweth
Director: Steve Martino
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

I grew up reading Peanuts cartoons every single morning.  It was a ritual I had with my Dad-I would trade off the front section of our two-part newspaper (where I'd read the world news-this was a young John before the internet was really a thing and I would get most of my political news from the paper and Newsweek) and the back half, which was mostly sports which I skipped but the back page was the comics and Ann Landers, which I read with fervor.  Peanuts was one of my favorites, and not just because I had seen Charlie Brown and Snoopy on TV every Christmas, but because you never knew which member of the large set of characters would show up.  So many distinct personalities in one cartoon, it was a joy to read every single day.  Plus, Charles Schultz being a Minnesotan like myself, there was a personal gravity toward his work that others couldn't quite muster.  So when they announced a computer-animated Peanuts movie, I was both thrilled and a little bit leery.  After all, it's always risky to tread on a classic, and for every Muppets there's another half-dozen Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks.  I am pleased to report, however, that The Peanuts Movie is delightful, still inline with the G-Rated humor and heart that made Schultz's cartoons so endearing, and hopefully will turn on a new generation of children (who aren't sharing a newspaper with their dad) to the beloved cast of characters.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows our lovable loser Charlie Brown as he tries (frequently in vain) to charm the moniker-less Little Red-Haired Girl, frequently trying to become a winner.  He first tries impressing her with a magic act (but ends up sacrificing his work to help his little sister Sally win the school talent competition instead), moving on to a dancing competition that he does well at but then accidentally sets off the school sprinkler, and finally writes an essay on War and Peace that is destroyed by the Red Baron.  When it's revealed that he got a perfect score on his test (when it was actually Peppermint Patty) he enjoys his moment in the spotlight and everyone hero-worshiping him (even a reluctant Lucy), but being Charlie Brown he admits the test isn't his, and lo-and-behold the Little Red-Haired Girl (who actually gets a face and gets to talk here!) still likes him anyway in a wonderfully sweet final scene.  The movie is filled throughout with wonderful messages and a side story featuring Snoopy writing a World War II Flying Ace story about his rivalry with the Red Baron.

This side story, for me, was the highlight of the film.  The Charlie Brown scenes were all wonderful, but while they were never not good, they couldn't quite muster the classic nature of Linus' Great Pumpkin moments (there wasn't enough Linus or Lucy for my taste in general) and the TV series that I suspect will always trump more so because they are childhood classics than anything else (bring your kids to this movie and in twenty years we'll quiz them and test this theory).  The Snoopy story, however, is wonderfully funny and fresh in a way I didn't think a decades-old property could be.  Using Frank Welker's old recordings for Snoopy and Woodstock (and wonderfully introducing Kristin Chenoweth as Snoopy's love interest Fifi), we get a beautifully told love story, complete with physical comedy bits that made me giggle hysterically, and that actually felt like a way to lengthen the movie that was organic and enjoyable, as the Charlie Brown bits are probably only about 50 minutes of cinema.  Overall, it was thoroughly entertaining, the sort of film that kids will want to see again-and-again, and you won't mind.

Those were my thoughts anyway-what about yours (it's a very short movie, so it's getting a relatively short review here)?  Anyone else loving The Peanuts Movie, and wishing that such care would be given to other beloved children's properties?  What other cartoons from the Sunday Funnies pages do you want to make it to the big-screen (hint: Hagar the Horrible)?  And what do you think of The Peanuts Movie's chances with Oscar (I am betting no, but it's going to be close)?  Share your thoughts below!

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