Skip to main content

Whoa! Check out the moves on that funny-looking kid with a big nose!

The Peanuts Movie
(2015)

(SPOILERS) I was never an enormous fan of the particular brand of melancholy sentiment pervading Charles M Schultz’ Peanuts cartoon, although I did always like Snoopy and Woodstock. Pretty much the same applies to this big screen version, with the caveat that snowballing the characters from an eight-frame strip cartoon to a 20-minute TV version to a 90-minute CGI feature is simply unsustainable, content-wise.


Probably general audiences thought so too, since for all that Mrs Schultz says there’s no hurry to make a follow-up (it took eight years to get this one made, and she considers that’s probably a good amount of time to wait for a sequel), Fox can’t be in a desperate hurry; it cost $100m and grossed $246m worldwide, the least successful of Blue Sky’s animations (that’s including Robots!) I wouldn’t be surprised if the diligence required to keep the Schultz estate happy was something of a strain to boot (son Craig and grandson Bryan are credited on the screenplay with Cornelius Uliano; director Steve Martino helmed Continental Drift and Horton Hears a Who!)


Which may have been no bad thing, all told. Certainly, against the odds, the CGI animation perfectly complements the Shultz strip versions. Unnecessary, certainly, but in no way does it deface the legacy like the horrific live action Garfield that appeared about a decade ago (if there are plans to remount that character for the screen at some point, and there are bound to be, particularly with the success of The Secret Life of Pets, the makers could do worse than follow The Peanuts Movie template).


On the downside, the plotless, easy-going approach of the original version simply doesn’t lend itself to this kind of expansion. Charlie Brown may be the classic frustrated loser (or “an insecure, wishy-washy failure” as he says of himself here, only to be told “You have all the qualities I admire”; not something you hear said to your typical inept sitcom character), but that doesn’t mean his format is endlessly malleable.


The premise, such as it is, finds Charlie enamoured by new classmate the Little Red-Haired Girl, and doing his best/worst to get her to notice him. The results are never less than episodic, with the plot ambling along in an amiable fashion that absolutely doesn’t call for close attention and absolutely does require staying power. Along the way Charlie receives a perfect test score, and we’re subjected to Snoopy fantasy interludes as he woos a damsel dog and acts the flying ace (essentially this is an easy one for Blue Sky, since he becomes the Scrat character, punctuating the narrative but with little purpose in the main story).


Of course, we see Charlie’s essential noble nature, helping out his sister in a talent show at his own expense and owning up to Peppermint Patty being the true test winner when he realises it wasn’t him, and the whole just stays the right side of maudlin, but it rarely elicits any strong emotion at all. Perhaps in that way it’s the perfect encapsulation (or extension) of America’s best loved strip cartoon; inoffensiveness is a great leveller.


There are nice moments; Charlie attempting to read Leo Toy Store by Warren Peace (“Yikes! How long was this war?”), and bizarrely succeeding, and Lucy reviewing Snoopy’s composition (“A dog that flies? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!”) but The Peanuts Movie’s greatest virtue is – very similarly to Horton Hears a Who!, actually, although that was top notch – finding a means of translating the style of the original material to a new medium in a way that enhances or complements rather than denigrates or diminishes it.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds . Juno and the Paycock , set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert.

Dr. Strangelove  or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (SPOILERS) Kubrick’s masterpiece satire of mutually-assured destruction. Or is it? Not the masterpiece bit, because that’s a given. Rather, is all it’s really about the threat of nuclear holocaust? While that’s obviously quite sufficient, all the director’s films are suggested to have, in popular alt-readings, something else going on under the hood, be it exposing the ways of Elite paedophilia ( Lolita , Eyes Wide Shut ), MKUltra programming ( A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket ), transhumanism and the threat of imminent AI overlords ( 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and most of the aforementioned and more besides (the all-purpose smorgasbord that is The Shining ). Even Barry Lyndon has been posited to exist in a post-reset-history world. Could Kubrick be talking about something else as well in Dr. Strangelove ?

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for