The Peanuts Movie


Good ol' Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

Good ol’ Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

(2015) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Noah Schnapp, Alex Garfin, Bill Melendez, Kristin Chenoweth, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets, Venus Schultheis, Rebecca Bloom, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Noah Johnston, Francesca Capaldi, Anastasia Bredikhina, William Wunsch, Marelik “Mar Mar” Walker, A.J. Tecce, Madisyn Shipman. Directed by Steve Martino

 

When I was growing up, Peanuts was a thing. Charles Schulz created a comic strip that millions of kids related to whether they knew it or not. I always saw myself as Charlie Brown (which some psychiatrists might have had a field day with); something of a perpetual failure, disliked by everyone other than Linus and his little sister Sally, and doomed to be the butt of everyone’s jokes in school. I felt many of those same feelings myself, although I also felt redeemed by Charlie Brown’s sweet nature and inner kindness.

Schulz died in 2000 and while the TV specials – including the classic Christmas and Halloween specials – continue to run annually on network television. The strip is in syndication and while there have been no new Peanuts material since Schulz passed away, this movie intends to introduce the characters to an entirely new audience – while reacquainting them with the audience that has grown up and has children – and in some cases grandchildren – of their own.

Charlie Brown (Schnapp) is one of those kids for whom nothing just ever seems to go right. The object of ridicule for most of his classmates, who refer to him as a blockhead, he wears one shirt and one shirt only – a yellow t-shirt with a black zigzag pattern on the front, and seems to have no hair except for a tuft up front. Still, he’s a good, decent sort and while he has few friends – his neighbor Linus van Pelt (Garfin) is one – he looks after his little sister Sally (Sheets) and his beagle Snoopy (Melendez) who is, perhaps, the most unusual dog ever.

For one thing, Snoopy is writing a novel about his alter ego, the World War I flying ace, perpetually battling his nemesis, the notorious Red Baron who has outdone himself for dastardliness – he’s kidnapped French flying ace Fifi (Chenoweth), a poodle whom the WWIFA has his eye on.

In the meantime, Charlie Brown has his eye on someone too – the Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) who just moved into the neighborhood. He dreams of having a friend who doesn’t know about his record of failure and will like him just for himself. However, as usual, Charlie Brown manages to sabotage himself.

However, his luck is changing. When the class takes a standardized test, Charlie Brown becomes the first kid in school history to answer the questions 100% correct. Suddenly, he becomes – gasp – popular. People think he’s smart. People think he’s special. The adulation becomes a bit more than Charlie Brown can handle, particularly when he discovers that there was a mix-up in the scores.

This is very much like the Peanuts we all remember, at least those of us who remember it at all. It has that same sweet quality that bespeaks of the resilience of the eternal optimist that things will get better – that being Charlie Brown – and that for all our faults, that deep down there is something good about all of us. Even the bossy and occasional overbearing Lucy (Miller) who still dispenses psychiatric advice – most of which does more harm than good – for five cents. Inflation hasn’t touched everything, it seems.

The music cues echo those of Vince Guaraldi as composer Christophe Beck incorporates many of Guaraldi’s familiar melodies into the score. There are also some pop songs in the soundtrack which wasn’t something Schulz ever did with the specials (although to be honest those were directed by Bill Melendez although Schulz certainly had input into such matters), but the songs themselves are pretty bland and inoffensive, familiar enough to be recognizable without taking over the film.

One thing that isn’t the same is the animation which is 3D. It is jarring at first to see it, although the familiar simplicity of the Schulz drawings have been retained; they’ve just been given depth. Some purists might cringe; to be honest, I don’t think doing the animation in traditional 2D would have made much of a difference and I don’t think the 3D is going to bring new viewers in. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really harm anything and you get used to it in the first few minutes.

In many ways, this will be more of a treat for the parents rather than the kids. Modern kids, used to the stuff they see on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, will not be as interested in the Peanuts gang. After all, being kids they’ll want to go with what they’re familiar with and what’s being marketed better. One kid told a friend of mine who offered to take them to the movies and had suggested The Peanuts Movie that he would close his eyes for the entire movie if they took him to see that one, so they ended up seeing the vastly inferior The Good Dinosaur instead.

That’s a shame because they ended up missing a very good movie. I can see why kids would be a little hostile towards it, but at the end of the day Peanuts really belongs to a different generation than the ones that make up the core audience for animated features these days. By all means, bring your kids but I think it’s the parents who are going to have the best time at the movie.

REASONS TO GO: Instant trip down Memory Lane for parents. Enjoyable on all levels for kids.
REASONS TO STAY: Some kids may not relate to Charlie Brown and the gang the way their parents and grandparents did.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the segment when Charlie Brown becomes popular, Shermy grabs his arm and exclaims “I saw him first!” In the very first Peanuts strip, Shermy was the first member of the gang to lay eyes on Charlie Brown.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/7/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Over the Hedge
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Secret in Their Eyes

Flash Gordon (1980)


Savior of the universe!

Savior of the universe!

(1980) Science Fiction (Universal) Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow, Topol, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Mariangela Melato, John Osborne, Richard O’Brien, John Hallam, Philip Stone, Suzanne Danielle, William Hootkins, Bobbie Brown, Ted Carroll, Adrienne Kronenberg, Stanley Lebor, John Morton, Robbie Coltrane, Tessa Hewitt.  Directed by Mike Hodges

Sci-Fi Spectacle 2015

Flash Gordon began life as an Alex Raymond comic strip which was later made into serials in the 1930s. You may have seen them, with the phallic sparks-shooting space ships that made the annoying electric whine whenever they flew. In 1980, a movie version from Italian uber-producer Dino de Laurentiis made an indelible splash.

Audiences to this day are fairly divided about how they feel when it comes to the 1980 film. Some feel it’s campy to the point of silliness. Others admire the sumptuous visuals, the rock and roll soundtrack and the slithering performance of veteran Swedish actor Max von Sydow (who is incidentally cast in this December’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens). They’re both right.

“Flash” Gordon (Jones) is the starting quarterback for the New York Jets. He and Dale Arden (Anderson), a travel agent, are taking a private plane from Canada back to New York when a freak storm buffets the plane. Flaming meteorites impact the cockpit, sucking out the pilots. Gordon, who has taken flying lessons, manages to crash land the plane into the solarium of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol), a disgraced NASA scientist who thinks the Earth is under attack from an extraterrestrial force.

The problem is, he’s right. Ming the Merciless (von Sydow), emperor of Mongo, has decided to amuse himself by shoving the Moon out of the Earth’s orbit to crash into the Earth. Zarkov, knowing the only way to stop the catastrophe from happening is to go to Mongo for which Zarkov has conveniently built a rocket ship. Flash and Dale aren’t terribly enthusiastic about going but Zarkov insists – at gunpoint.

Once on Mongo they are captured and brought to the Emperor, who decrees that Zarkov is to be brainwashed into his service, Dale is to be used for his carnal pleasure and Flash is to be executed. Of course, none of these plucky Earthmen are going to go down quietly and with the help of Princess Aura (Muti), Ming’s oversexed daughter, Flash enlists the help of Prince Barin (Dalton) of Arborea and Prince Vultan (Blessed) of the Hawkmen to help overthrow Ming and save the Earth. But the clock is ticking, Ming is about to marry Dale and the Moon is getting ever closer to the Earth. Can Flash save the day?

Of course he can. This is a movie that has the cheese factor of an old pulp serial with none of the suspense. There is a cartoon-y element to it, with the vivid color palate used by the production design team and Hodges; this can be seen vividly on the wonderful video transfer on the Blu-Ray, one of the best ever. If you didn’t get to see it on the original theatrical run, by all means see it on the Blu-Ray. You’ll be glad you did.

Everything about this movie screams excess, from the lavish sets, the sumptuous visual effects and the S&M bondage costumes and of course, the Queen score. Given all of the elements of this film, I’m kind of surprised that the gay community hasn’t embraced this film more; there are a lot of themes going on here that seem to me to be complimentary to the ethos of the more flamboyant elements of that community.

A lot of the hardcore sci-fi fans have rejected the film, citing that it is about as scientifically inaccurate as the Republican party. In the film’s defense, it is based on a comic strip that never intended to be a science textbook; Raymond wanted his strip to appeal to the sense of adventure for kids more than to the sensibilities of a physicist.

The acting here is mostly over-the-top, with von Sydow in particular most delightful as the villainous Ming. Jones, on the other hand, is a bit wooden and a bit colorless; he simply doesn’t carry the movie at all considering he’s the title character. Methinks that he was distracted more by external issues than he should have been; in any case, this didn’t do any favors for his career.

I have to say that Queen’s soundtrack was as good as any soundtrack for any film; it perfectly fits the vibe of the movie. The propulsive theme song with its chorus “Flash…aaahaaaa…” and operatic guitars is almost iconic. Even those who haven’t seen the film have likely heard the song.

This isn’t rocket science (although it literally is). It’s just good old fashioned fun, with a winking self-awareness that tells us that the film doesn’t take itself terribly serious, which is in all likelihood a good thing. While the comic tone is the invention of the film (nearly every other film and TV incarnation of the comic strip has played it relatively straight), it seems to suit the material pretty well. If you don’t like camp chances are you’ll be irritated by this movie but if you don’t mind it and take it for what it’s worth, this is mind-blowing entertainment.

WHY RENT THIS: Visually gorgeous. Goofy fun. Queen soundtrack.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overdose on campy. Jones doesn’t carry the film the way he should. Less science and more fiction.
FAMILY VALUES: Some campy violence, a couple of disturbing images and plenty of sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of Jones’ dialogue was dubbed by another actor; he had a falling out with de Laurentiis during post-production over lack of payment and refused to loop his lines until the situation was resolved, which it apparently never was.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Both the Savior of the Universe DVD Anniversary edition and the Blu-Ray have featurettes on comic book artist Alex Ross (who was much inspired by the movie, which he terms his favorite) and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., as well as the first chapter of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial starring Buster Crabbe, whose plot is very similar to the movie.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $49M (just UK and USA) on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (Blu-Ray/DVD Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu (download only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Galaxy Quest
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle concludes!