The Peanuts Movie (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Peanuts Movie (2015)

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Charlie Brown, the perennial blockhead, thinks he finally has a chance to overcome his lifelong association with failure.  When a new girl moves into town it's an opportunity for Charlie Brown to put on his best self and make a good impression for the first time in his life.  The Peanuts Movie is directed by Steve Martino, from a screenplay written by Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano, and stars Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Alex Garfin, and Venus Omega Schultheis.

The gang never changesIt's a bit late now, what with the newspaper comic strip dying a slow death, but I always had this theory about what strip you read as a kid and how it predicted the adult you'd become.  My routine was to hit every comic but linger on three - Garfield, Foxtrot, and Peanuts.  Garfield made me legit laugh and has proven to be excellent fodder for postmodern experimentation, Foxtrot usually made me chuckle and I identified with the dorky Jason, and Peanuts taught me that life will almost always find a way to punish you for doing the right thing.  This may seem harsh for a children's comic strip, but the first Peanuts strip introduced good ol' Charlie Brown with "How I hate him!" and set a template for self-depreciation which lasted until creator Charles Schulz retired the strip in February of 2000.

His final panels weren't of a happy and successful Charlie Brown recalling his life years later.  Instead we get the familiar sites of Lucy's psychiatry booth, Charlie Brown pondering existence, and Snoopy writing.  How fitting then that the strip Schulz's family didn't want anyone to continue has a screenplay written by two Shchulzs, Bryan Schulz and Craig Schulz, and remembers the daggers amid the sweetness of Schulz's work.  Life has a way of triumphing over what seems like endless misery and The Peanuts Movie fondly remembers both.

Director Steve Martino, with an assist from the Schulzs and additional screenwriter Cornelius Uliano, did something kinda remarkable.  The current cinematic climate involves endless reboots and with it endless explanations about who these characters are and why we should care about their existence.  I was slightly afraid The Peanuts Movie would turn out like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and punch up the animation quality while sacrificing what's so important about the Peanuts characters.  But instead of punching up The Peanuts Movie Martino and company slow things down, avoid lengthy explanations about who these kids are, and lets the story of a boy, his dog, and his eclectic friends breathe.

Snoopy - still cool - but a little goes a long way.

Snoopy - still cool - but a little goes a long way.

The biggest success is in the way Martino approached the animation style of The Peanuts Movie.  All the characters, and the animals to a greater degree, look like they're made of felt.  This gives them an instantly huggable quality the jerky animation amplifies.  Instead of making all the characters move in smooth fluid motions Martino animates them as though they're missing a frame or two and amplifies the effect when they're making critical emotional decisions.  When those decisions are made the seemingly hand-drawn facial expressions combine with the jerky semi-finished quality of the animation and become beautiful - like a kid drawing out his daily moral dilemma for an audience of dog.  This is also a fitting extension of the original Peanuts television programs whose tiny budget and rushed production gave them a long-standing charm.

But the childlike presentation extends to the masterful way Martino animates the environment.  With one crucial exception, the landscape of The Peanuts Movie is shaped entirely by the characters' emotions.  I lost track the number of times I giggled watching events like a pile of hearts from the perpetually smitten Sally collided left perfect indentations in the snow.  These kids aren't in adolescence yet, their emotions and imaginations are their world, and I didn't realize how important it was to me Martino capture this.  But when I was fighting back tears when poor Charlie Brown has his own "rain cloud" in a once-crowded auditorium I remembered just how lonely and immediate being a kid was.

This true nostalgia, not the manufactured kind you see on Buzzfeed, fueled some lines which surprised me at how harsh they were.  I have to give credit for the Schulzs and Uliano for keeping in painful self-analysis like "I've come down with a case of inadequacy" and, in one harsh moment, where Lucy tells Charlie Brown to look in the mirror and says, "See that face?  That's the face of failure."  I laughed at those lines not because "Kids say the darndest things" but because kids can be unfathomably cruel as they test out new phrases and emotions before the jumble of adolescence.  It was pain I recognized, overcame as I grew up, and was now able to laugh at.

The anxiety and hope of mere existence still finds its avatar in the wonderful Charlie Brown.

The anxiety and hope of mere existence still finds its avatar in the wonderful Charlie Brown.

I was also impressed with Martino's decision to keep true to the Peanuts spirit and cast relatively unknown child actors in the different roles.  You won't find any Mike Myers-esque turns here, but authentic-sounding kids who don't really need to go method because the screenplay keeps Charles Schulz's astute observations on childhood intact.  Noah Schnapp taps into the "never say die but sure wish I could" spirit of Charlie Brown and Hadley Belle Miller zeroes in on the slightly smarter and slightly meaner than her peers Lucy van Pelt.  On a personal note, I was always fond of Peppermint Patty and loved Venus Omega Schultheis' confident take on her.  But Alex Garfin, who voices Linus, has the trickiest role as Linus has always been the wisest of Charlie Brown's friends but never condescending.  He doesn't get a big showcase like in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but Garfin handles Linus with deftness befitting the character and always made me feel warm.

It's not all perfect in The Peanuts Movie though, and what I disliked may be a boon depending on your fandom.  But I always felt a bit of Snoopy went a long way and frequently skipped through the strips of Snoopy drinking in a World War I bar or sparring with The Red Baron.  A painfully large amount of The Peanuts Movie's sparse run-time is devoted to Snoopy fighting The Red Baron.  This amounts to a lot of CGI zipping, little in the way of jokes, and a jarring change from the fanciful emotion-filled world of Charlie Brown for a somewhat picturesque landscape of Snoopy.

These sequences do not detract from what may be The Peanuts Movie's most important accomplishment.  It understands kids are smart.  They don't need long-winded explanations about how hard it is to do the right thing or what motivates the Peanuts gang.  All Martino needed to do was show an excited Charlie Brown trying, and failing, to put on his jacket and fly a kite.  It's that simple and, in the hands of Martino and the rest of the Peanuts crew, that wonderful.

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Tail - The Peanuts MovieThe Peanuts Movie (2015)

Directed by Steve Martino.
Screenplay written by Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano.
Starring Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Alex Garfin, and Venus Omega Schultheis.

Posted by Andrew

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