Saturday, November 28, 2015

"The Peanuts Movie"

 2.5 / 5 

The title of The Peanuts Movie reveals just about everything you might need to know about The Peanuts Movie.  It's a movie with the Peanuts.  That about sums it up.

If you don't think you'd enjoy seeing a movie with the Peanuts, you won't much care for The Peanuts Movie.  If you think it's high time that Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Snoopy, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Marci and the gang had their own film, then you'll probably get a kick out of it.  And if you don't care much either way, you won't really care much either way about The Peanuts Movie.

Truth be told, I fall more toward the "doesn't-really-care-much" side of the scale, but that doesn't mean I didn't think parts of The Peanuts Movie were absolutely adorable and sweet-natured.  The movie, though, isn't as wistful or melancholy as the Peanuts TV specials.  In fact, it's a little depressing.

The TV specials endure at least in part because of their brevity.  They tell small, sweet stories, but they do so by taking a little bit of glee at the way they place poor ol' Charlie Brown in terribly embarrassing and frankly unhappy situations.  The Peanuts may only be kids, but they act more like adults in the way they have a pretty hierarchical pecking order, with Lucy at the very top, her germ-filled nemesis Snoopy not far behind, and so on down the line until the very end, where you have Charlie Brown, who is the butt of everyone's jokes and the target of their scorn.

Charles M. Schulz established the tone of the Peanuts right from the start with his very first Peanuts comic strip: Two little kids sit on the sidewalk as Charlie Brown approaches.  "Well! Here comes ol' Charlie Brown!" says one of them. "Good ol' Charlie Brown ... yes, sir!" Smiling, oblivious, round-headed Charlie Brown walks by. The boy repeats, "Good ol' Charlie Brown!"  Then comes the kicker:

"How I hate him!"

And such is the way it's always been for Charlie Brown.  It's more or less the same way in The Peanuts Movie, but when it plays out over four line-drawn panels or a half-hour with commercials, it's one thing, but over 75 minutes it's a little wearying.  Poor Charlie Brown.  How could anyone hate him?

After more than six decades, the animosity may have tempered a bit, and it's true the kids aren't quite as mean-spirited, but Charlie Brown just can't catch a break.  The kid's self-esteem isn't in the gutter, it's way down in the sewer at this point, and heading out toward the ocean.  No one seems to notice except Lucy, and she just wants to exploit it to make herself feel superior.

Knowing that there aren't a lot of people who want to sit through a full-length animated film about a kid who's chronically depressed and needs some serious intervention, the filmmakers behind The Peanuts Movie have fleshed things out a bit to add a long and kind of boring story about Snoopy imagining himself fighting the Red Baron and meeting a little poodle named Fifi, and a lot of cute little side moments featuring some of the other characters.

In typical Peanuts fashion, it all plays out with a jazzy mellowness, and on one hand it's kind of nice to see a movie that's in little rush to get to its slight story, that doesn't feel a need to barrel ahead into a story that obsessively tries to square away the "canon" of the Peanuts with its current plot.  On the other hand, that means The Peanuts Movie just kind of meanders along from scene to scene until it stumbles into a story.

It's really about putting the Peanuts kids back onto the big screen for the first time since 1980, getting the tone and feel of the TV specials just right, updating the look into the 21st century with nicely done CG animation that strikes a perfect balance between the simple lines of the earlier versions with the expectations of animation that today's kids have.

But whether The Peanuts Movie is any good probably depends on how old you are or what kind of mood you're in.  That is, kids will probably like it, even though it's quite gentle and slowly paced by the standards of other animated movies; and if you're feeling a little nostalgic for the Peanuts and would finally like to see them do something other than have Thanksgiving or buy a Christmas tree, you'll probably like it, too.

When I saw it, the nostalgic part of me was satisfied after about 10 minutes, and for the rest of the movie I just kept marveling at how miserable Charlie Brown must be in life.  It's a good thing he never gets any older than 8 or 9, the age I've always assumed he is.  I kept thinking that he's going to have an even more miserable life in high school, and hoping that by the time he graduates from college he comes to terms with his place in the world.  I hope he does.  I like Charlie Brown.  I want to see him have a good day every once in a while.  I don't want to see him end up miserable and regretting life.  I fear that's the direction he's heading, and nothing in The Peanuts Movie really changed my mind.

Viewed Nov. 27, 2015


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