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Monthly Archives: March 2016

On one hand, I loved the film.  I was thoroughly entertained throughout the picture, the way the story unfolded was fantastic — so glad they followed through post-solution of the mystery.  Oh yeah, and it was distinctly  not a Disney film.

It was, yet it wasn’t.  Animation: top notch.  As always with Disney or Pixar, I’m seeing plenty of articles flooding my screen about how “Disney went the extra mile to achieve realistic fur” or “such and such was inserted here for authenticity purposes.”  Cool, great, that’s what Disney does: push boundaries, animate in technologically innovative and fascinating ways.  They’re so good at it, I’d be a little let down if that hadn’t happened.

On top of that, what we have here is some of the greatest character animation of the Second Disney Renaissance.  The life in these characters sits up there with those from DumboPinocchio,  and the package films like Saludos Amigos and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, though let me be clear, I’m not drawing analogies between the two eras (We’ll get into why I don’t like the Robin Hood comparison later).  The Disney animators did a fabulous job getting back to expressive motion in this film, something that subtly elevated Tangled over Frozen in my mind.  So with respect to animation (and on a blog titled “animation connection,” why would we care about much else?), Disney film. All. The. Way.

Now the subject: Disney-ish?  And that’s not entirely a bad thing.  This is very much a product of Lasseter, Catmull, and the Pixar team overhauling Disney animation.  Of course, that’s not to say this is a Pixar film either — it plays by too many conventional genre and cinematic expectations to fit that auteur style that has been stamped on the Pixar product since the late 2000’s (and dwindling away fast).  As a follow up to Frozen, it contrasts heavily with that picture’s princess territory.  It’s a different contrast, though, than Wreck-it Ralph had with TangledRalphthough ambitious and different, follows a traditional storyline that has been played out in a number of other Disney films where the protagonist re-evaluates his goals in his journey — think Emperor’s New Groove.   The film achieved a fresh spin on this by simply reversing roles where the “bad guy” became the “good guy.”  I don’t at all mean to take away from Ralph, it was a fantastic film, but I want to show there was more to Zootopia‘s deviation from the formula than there has been before at Disney.

Zootopia may be a little on the nose for some, but perhaps that’s because of the current tensions in our culture’s racial climate.  The film actually does a fantastic job of sliding applicable lessons into its story for both adults and children, teaching each audience about stereotyping and bullying at the same time.  It’s an extremely difficult task to accomplish, and the film does this well.  The messages of acceptance and positivity stand distinctly apart from the more generic themes present in Disney’s more recent efforts, because these apply so directly to our society today.

It aligns with Looney Tunes, however, in its cultural references.  This film will be practically a time capsule in the future, which will unfortunately quickly date it.  That’s not to say it can’t be timeless, for many of us today enjoy watching 80’s movies, even if the girls are wearing leg warmers.  Let’s note though, that jokes referencing “Breaking Bad” and other current pop culture touchstones will be lost on later audiences much like they are in Looney Tunes (imagine how much is detracted from “The Scarlet Pumpernickel” when audiences don’t get Daffy’s direct and indirect references to Errol Flynn).

As for Disney’s own view on it, I really dislike their effort to characterize it as a return to the style of their classic pictures.  This a) defeats the respect we can give it for being so different thematically from everything else in the Disney canon, and b) really isn’t a return to anything they’ve done.  Sure, Reitherman’s Robin Hood might have been a jumping off point, but don’t publicize that.  Your animation style does not even remotely follow that 1960’s-70’s era.  As much as I’d like to see at least one hand drawn picture to accompany every 5-7 CG films (I know it isn’t cost efficient, but Pooh was so refreshing in 2011), accept your style and promote it.  The rough, unkempt lines of Robin Hood is that generation’s thing, make jaw-dropping world building and unprecedentedly fluid character movement your thing.

Zootopia was an impressive deviation from Disney’s norm, and their previous recent films have been preparing audiences for this.  It blends a traditional dedication to character animation with the current demand for world-building and messages of diversity.  It will probably get weighed down in the future by it’s reliance upon culture in 2016, but let’s hope Judy Hopps can stay as entertaining as Bugs Bunny 75 years down the line.

The Peanuts Movie.  They’re right, everything in the animation is amazing.  I honestly loved looking at it, and I think it would be just as fun to watch without dialogue and instead accompanied solely by Vince Guaraldi.

Charlie Brown’s main story was cute.  It’s simple – a boy wants to win a girl – and it doesn’t try to overcomplicate anything.  The structure is very obvious, you can entirely tell when you’re moving out of one part of the story and into the next.  The major fault is in Snoopy’s red baron pursuit.  Issue: these Red Baron chase scenes have never been meant to be more than a 3-4 minute diversion.  As far as I can think, the most prominent animated Red Baron chase comes from It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!.  It makes sense there: costumes, halloween, pretending to be characters.  I give Blue Sky props in managing to end that sequence without allowing Snoopy to actually shoot down the Red Baron, and also to have it at some points loosely reflect what’s going on in Charlie Brown’s life.   Though these Red Baron scenes could be entirely deleted without any interruption in the overall picture, it’s not something I want to dwell on because it didn’t truly take away much from my experience (it didn’t really add anything either anyway).

What they really accomplished though was creating a meaningful interpretation of Childhood without cellphones, computers, the internet, etc.  I admittedly am biased, because I’ve been a fan of Charlie Brown longer than I have Disney, or even animation itself.  I root for Charlie Brown, and I’m still heartbroken when he fails.  It’s devastating to watch him lose his book report on War and Peace, because it’s at this point that, whether you’re a fan or not, you really understand that Charlie Brown is a born loser, and even if he hits a high streak for a little bit, it’ll end.  Knowing this, watching him truly succeed with the Little Red Haired Girl neither compromises Charlie Brown’s “born loser” status, nor does it leave us unsatisfied at having watched this movie. And yeah, I know, this breaks a lot of the “rules” from the comics.  Even I was skeptical throughout most of the movie, but to adapt to modern audience expectations, it had to be done   Be honest, would you prefer to watch this movie and see no character arc while it stays 100% true to the comic strip, or would you rather see carefully made, slight compromises, and watch Charlie Brown change from a despondent, hopeless loser, to a cheerful, reassured loser.  More or less, it’s an extended Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Now for the fun stuff.  I love the references to the comics.  Snoopy’s vulture face, definite lines drawn straight from the panels, Woodstock’s zamboni/snow machine, typewriter, Snoopy’s Van Gogh, Mrs. Othmar, Joe Cool, and references to the specials — A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving reference with”I only know how to cook toast,” and the obvious “Christmastime Is Here” bit.  I’m sure in future viewings there will still be plenty to catch.

Is The Peanuts Movie stellar?  No.  We could nitpick all day (Peppermint Patty and Franklin live across town, and Linus, Sally, and Schroeder are all younger than Charlie Brown).  The issue with Charlie Brown and the gang is there was so much genius in the original strip, that all efforts to adapt the property come up short.  Is the effort pointless?  Well, depends on the way you see things.  Was Blue Sky going for easy cash with this film, or where they really giving it a good faith effort to celebrate Peanuts and the genius of Chuck Schulz?  Realistically, it’s probably both; however, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with my favorite characters because of this movie.  You’d better believe that I was thumbing through my old Peanuts treasuries for days after seeing that movie.  Not many animated films so well capture the essence of a comic strip artist’s pen-strokes that they inspire you to dive back into that original source material (admittedly, I don’t think any have ever tried).  To sum it up, Peanuts Movie is by no means the perfect Charlie Brown package, but it is perhaps the best picture in the Peanuts canon of specials and films to capture the static vibrancy of Charles Schulz in animated form.  I hope it works as a great introduction for younger generations of the pinnacle strip of the American funnies.