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Monday, November 9, 2015

The Peanuts Movie



It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was wintry snow day where all of the kids in Charlie Brown's whimsical unnamed American suburban town were ice skating and playing in the snow. Then the Little Red Haired Girl moved into the house across the street from Charlie Brown and upended his life (for the better). Of course, during this snow day, Charlie Brown was futilely trying to fly a kite and avoid the dreaded Kite-Eating Tree, to no avail. That blockhead. The Peanuts Movie immerses us like never before in the world created by the late Charles M. Schulz, brighter, more colorful, as idiosyncratic and filled with boundless optimism as ever. The gang's all here, just as Schulz wrote and drew them for 50 years, with the filmmakers taking his designs and gorgeously animating them for the big screen vividly in three dimensions. The Peanuts Movie is the big screen party with Charlie Brown and Snoopy we've always waited for.

Eternally children, but with the inner complexities and anxieties of adults, Charlie Brown and his friends are just as we remember them. The Peanuts Movie dutifully calls back to all of their greatest hits and defining personality quirks: Charlie Brown is still the world's worst baseball manager. Lucy is still Charlie Brown's biggest detractor, yet also his psychiatrist (for 5 cents a session), and still in love with Schroeder. Schroeder still loves Beethoven and can perform concertos on his tinker toy piano. Linus is still wise and attached to his security blanket, hoping the Little Red Haired Girl will believe in the Great Pumpkin. Sally, Charlie Brown's little sister, is still in love with Linus, her sweet baboo. Pig Pen is still perpetually covered in dust. Peppermint Patty is still an oblivious tomboy and Marcie remains her smart, loyal assistant. A couple of interesting changes The Peanuts Movie makes places Peppermint Patty and Marcie in Charlie Brown's neighborhood and classroom; in the comic strip they lived across town. Linus, Lucy's little brother in the comic, is also in Lucy and Charlie Brown's class, which must either make him Lucy's twin or he's smart enough to be moved up a grade. And of course, there's Snoopy, with Woodstock at his side, Charlie Brown's incredible beagle who sleeps on top of his doghouse and can do pretty much anything. The very best change The Peanuts Movie makes is to have Snoopy, who's usually a little distant to his owner in the comic unless it's suppertime ("Oh yeah, the round-headed kid"), be a devoted best pal to Charlie Brown, who needs all the help he can get.

In The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is in love and must overcome "all of his inadequacies" and find a way to talk to the Little Red Haired Girl (who remains nameless. Schroeder and Franklin also still amusingly lack surnames). His own wishy-washy worst enemy, Charlie Brown is still a sweet, compassionate boy with good intentions. He tries his best to impress the Little Red Haired Girl by winning a dance contest and actually reads the entire volume of "War in Peace" to write a shared book report while she's out of town. When Charlie Brown mistakenly gets a perfect score on a standardized math test, he becomes a local celebrity with all of the other kids becoming his followers, to Lucy's chagrin. (Sally taking the opportunity to market and merchandise her famous big brother makes her a pretty sly dog.) Meanwhile, continually spurned from attending school with the other kids, even when in the guise of Joe Cool, Snoopy discovers a typewriter and lets his imagination loose writing the Great American Novel and living out his adventures as the World War I Flying Ace dog fighting with the Red Baron over the skies of France while trying to rescue his beagle love Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth). A fantastic running gag is Snoopy imagining himself as the Flying Ace shot down behind enemy lines in Occupied France trying to make it back to his barracks, when he's actually appearing in the other kids' homes, in their backyards climbing on their clotheslines, or in their tubs during bath time. 

A smart, joyous and beat-perfect adaptation of Charles Schulz's comics and the holiday cartoons generations grew up with (complete with the beloved Vince Guaraldi "Linus and Lucy" jazz theme and the honking sound for every adult in the movie), The Peanuts Movie warmly trades on the three key lessons Charles Schulz's comics teach us: Like Charlie Brown, you can overcome your anxieties and be the best person you can be, and it's enough. And you are not bound by your circumstances, like Snoopy, who may just be a beagle, but uses his limitless imagination to live a rich, full life of adventure. The third lesson may be the best one: there's no greater friendship than a boy and his dog. The Peanuts Movie is a love letter to Charlie Brown and Snoopy, to Linus and Lucy, to their creator and to the millions of fans who grew up with them. It's a victory deserved and well earned, especially for a boy named Charlie Brown.