Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"The Peanuts Movie": Genuine To Its Core

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I won’t lie and make myself out to be the biggest Peanuts fan, but I will say that I was a little worried when I heard that Blue Sky Studios was going to be responsible for adapting Charlie Brown and company to the big screen.  Known primarily for the never-ceasing Ice Age franchise, Fox’s animation studio isn’t exactly known for quality or even visual creativity.  However, having now seen their attempt at translating the works of Charles Schulz, I have to admit that they’ve managed to mostly stay true to the source material.  Mostly.

I think this comes in large part from the contribution of Craig and Bryan Schulz, Charles’s son and grandson respectively, as the film’s producers and screenwriters.  The narrative is kept somewhat loose, centering on Charlie Brown’s infatuation with the Little Red Haired Girl who has moved in across the street.  The conflicts are simple problems of childhood, be it a book report or a standardized test or a school dance, but all of them are reflective of Charlie’s attempts to seem impressive in the LRHG’s eyes, even if he isn’t impressed with himself.

What struck me most about this is that it retains the melancholy of the original comics and TV specials, leaving Charlie Brown’s ingrained depression largely unaltered and maintaining a darker tone than is usual for children’s animation.  But that’s part of what makes the world of Peanuts so relatable, especially for children, who understand the trials and anxiety that Charlie faces from firsthand experience.  That relatability is only enhanced by the smart choice to have the gang voiced by actual children, a move that is not seen often enough in recent animation bent on lending star power to their marketability.

But marketability tends to be the source of The Peanuts Movie’s biggest weaknesses.  Though Snoopy’s Red Baron sequences are accurately reminiscent of the TV specials, they happen much too frequently and are obviously in place to act as a visual distraction for the youngest viewers who won’t grasp the heavier themes.  But that’s all they are: a distraction.  Furthermore, the film insists on playing the same original pop song on at least three occasions, making what would otherwise be an anachronistic annoyance into a full-on redundant pain.  And finally, I'd not like to put too fine a point on it, but the LRHG is a rather unfortunate waste of a character.  I know that in the original comic she was supposed to embody Charlie Brown’s unobtainable desires and wasn’t as much of a character per se, but I think it is worth pointing out that it is a problematic trope to have a female character exist purely for a male character’s self-actualization, and the fact that the LRHG has been given a voice and a face but still no personality now only makes that point more pronounced.

Still, there’s a lot to like in The Peanuts Movie, and it is probably a better version of the gang than one could have reasonably expected, especially from Blue Sky Studios.  It’s by no means a home run and it will never replace the TV specials as the standard for adapting Schulz to film, but it is an enjoyable time nonetheless and I’m happy that it will introduce a new generation of kids to a great little franchise.

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