You’ve Been Resuscitated, Charlie Brown!

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.

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