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

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

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.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.