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

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Fantasia 2000


Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000 is a whale of a movie

(1999) Animated Feature (Disney) Steve Martin, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Penn Jilette, Teller, Quincy Jones, Leopold Stokowsky, Itzhak Perlman, James Levine, Ralph Grierson, Kathleen Battle, Wayne Allwine (voice), Tony Anselmo (voice), Russi Taylor (voice). Directed by Various

 

One of Hollywood’s major curses is that it regularly seeks to improve upon a revered original. All of us can name at least one ill-advised remake, an update that litters the bowels of the septic tank of celluloid failure.

Wisely, the animators at Disney taking on the concept of Fantasia 2000 realized that they didn’t have to improve on the original so much as measure up to it. The original 1940 Fantasia is as highbrow as animation gets; it was (and is today) to standard animation features as going to an art museum is to attending a wrestling match. The same comparison can be made for the new opus.

Returning only the beloved “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from the original (the one wherein Mickey Mouse enchants a broomstick to carry his water for him), Fantasia 2000 adds eight new sequences ranging from the simplistic geometric animation of the opening “Beethoven’s Fifth” sequence to the intricate storytelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

The animation here holds up well to the original. Check out the self-satisfied smirks on the pink flamingos in Saint-Saens “Carnival of the Animals,” which asks the age-old question “What would happen if you gave a pink flamingo a yo-yo?” (it is also the most charming and shortest of the sequences here). Check also the looks of parental concern on the whales in the gorgeous “Pines of Rome” (by Respighi) sequence. This particular part is breathtaking in its imagination, having majestic humpback whales float in the air as serenely as they plow through the water, but the world of these whales is not necessarily what it seems; the sequence’s end is a delightful lesson in perspective.

Another favorite sequence is set to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” done in the linear style of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld. It depicts a depression-era New York City in which a construction worker dreams of being a jazz drummer, an unemployed man dreams of getting a job, a henpecked man dreams of being able to let the child in him go free and a little girl dreams of more attention from her parents. In this idealized Big Apple, dreams come true amid the glitter of the lights of Broadway.

Another sure-to-be fave is Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” (yes, the graduation theme for every high school ever) which stars Donald Duck as Noah’s assistant in loading up the Ark in preparation for the flood. Donald is separated from his beloved Daisy during the frenzied boarding; each believes the other left behind. While Donald puts out various fires in his capacity as assistant (the woodpeckers within are more dangerous than the storm without) Daisy pines at the railing of the mighty ark. They are reunited as the animals disembark in a particularly poignant moment. The movie closes with Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” which portrays an anime-style nymph battling a volcano-spawned firebird.

Each sequence is introduced by a celebrity host (Steve Martin, James Earl Jones and Penn and Teller are all particularly delightful). The animation here is superb; I was fortunate enough to see it in IMAX when it was first released to theaters and it made quite the impression on me. The re-mastered “Sorcerer’s Appearance” works seamlessly with the other sequences.

This is probably a bit too long-winded for smaller kids, which is true of the original “Fantasia.” As a work of art, it’s magnificent. As entertainment, it requires patience and imagination, something for which the American movie-going public is not noted. Still, for the smart gals and fellers reading this, it is without-question a must-see.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the most gorgeous animation you’re likely to see. Intelligent and delightful melding of classical music and animation fit for adults.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Children might find it tedious as it is a series of vignettes with almost no dialogue.

FAMILY MATTERS: Absolutely fit for family viewing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Officially released just after midnight December 31, 1999 making it the first movie to be released in the new millennium.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The original Fantasia is included in both the original 2000 DVD release and the 2010 Blu-Ray release. There are also a couple of animated shorts from the 1950s related to musical composition. In addition on the Blu-Ray edition there is a piece on a projected collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney that never came to fruition, although about six minutes of footage exists (shown here, along with the nearly hour long featurette concerning the piece). The Blu-Ray also has a couple of features on the new Disney Family Museum in the old army Presidio in San Francisco (well worth visiting if you are ever in the area – Da Queen and I did just that earlier this year).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $90.9M on an $80M production budget; like it’s predecessor, Fantasia 2000 failed to make back it’s production and marketing costs at the boxoffice.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Hugo