Monday, April 18, 2016

5Q Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie (2015)

Q: Is this an embarrassment to Peanuts fans everywhere and to the legacy of Charles M. Schulz?
A: No, not at all. I think overall it's a worth extension of the franchise and a nice way to introduce a new generation to the world of Charlie Brown. There are a lot of things in here Schulz wouldn't do, and there are some things I don't really care for, but it's a fun movie. It feels like Peanuts and captures the spirit of the source material--maybe a little too much in some places.

Q: How does the animation style work for Charlie and the gang?
A: Surprisingly well. It takes some getting used to at the beginning, but soon the Blue Sky CG animation style blends in a lot better than I expected. The character designs are solid. There are a few new angles and perspectives, like the overhead shot of the whole neighborhood early on, that open up this world in a pleasant way. We still don't see grownups or anything, though, so it's not that radical an approach.

Q: Is the story big enough to justify a feature film?
A: Well, I don't think Peanuts necessarily needs nor should even have a "big" plot for its own sake. In this case there isn't much of a story, which makes the film play a little long. Charlie spends much of the film pining for the little red-haired girl who moves into the neighborhood and joins his class. There are some vignettes and assorted bits here and there, but that's pretty much the deal: Charlie works up the courage to talk to her.

Even the older Peanuts features made when Schulz was still alive and the strip was thriving feel a little padded. I think these characters are better suited for the half-hour TV special format. Even at 80 minutes or so, "The Peanuts Movie" seems just a tad long.  Numerous fantasy sequences with Snoopy flying his "Sopwith Camel as a World War I flying ace don't work and add to that feeling. I know similar sequences in the "Great Pumpkin" special make up a seminal part of the Peanuts world, but a little of it goes a long way, then as now. There is some interesting animation in these segments, reminiscent of how the old movies and specials would use Snoopy to introduce some funkier work, but there's just too much.

One great thing about the film that may be related to its feature film status: Just about everyone gets some kind of moment. Many characters are neglected in the specials, but here you actually see just about everyone get at least a line or two of dialogue. I was especially pleased to see long-absent Violet and Patty (the non-Peppermint variety) get decent representation.

Q: Is it more geared to current adult fans or to youngsters?
A: My small children both enjoyed the movie, with my youngest laughing a lot more. He responded strongly to the physical humor.  It's a fine movie for kids, but I question the rewatch value.  As humorous and charming as it is, it's not something I feel I need to see again anytime soon, and I suspect kids will not want to put this on endless loop as they have other recent animated hits.

Q: What do you mean that it follows the source material "a little too much"?
A: Often, "The Peanuts Movie" runs through some of the old greatest hits rather than coming up with new situations and gags for the characters. I'm not even talking about taking dialogue directly from the original comic strips--the old specials did this all the time--but the film recycles moments and shots from those specials. It sounds weird to use the term "fan service" with regards to Peanuts, but there's way too much of it here.

However, there are some differences here and there. For example. this story makes the red-haired girl a visible character who talks, as opposed to just an offscreen (or off-panel) unattainable fantasy. Charlie gets some actual moments of triumph. Snoopy actually comes off much better than he does in many of the specials and the later comic strips: self-absorbed, perhaps, but all in all a loyal friend and eager assistant to Charlie.

"The Peanuts Movie" is a solid 3-out-of-4-star kind of movie, a funny, heartwarming picture for the whole family. I support trying to keep the franchise viable. I hope its success encourages the creators to go in a more ambitious direction next time, moving away from recycled material and trying to do something that will more fully support motion-picture length. That said, I would be all in favor of this team creating occasional half-hour televised specials.

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