Sunday, November 8, 2015

Brief thoughts on The Peanuts Movie.

With a production cycle of fifty years, the Peanuts comic strips by Charles Schulz remain one of the most recognizable and iconic comic series in history. Thanks to its quick-witted and lovable humor, as well as its endearing characters, it’s stood the test of time with countless reprints, TV specials, and theatrical features. Even those who haven’t read or seen its products are still familiar with Charlie Brown himself, it’s so popular. Because of this, it felt only natural that it would inspire a new modern animated feature, here in the form of the computer generated charmer that is The Peanuts Movie, from the minds at Blue Sky Studios.

What has particularly helped the Peanuts comic strips stand the test of the time is the everlasting endearment of the mostly bald, yellow and black clad Charlie Brown. Brown has always made for an accessible lead character, as I imagine that at one point we’ve all known someone like him, or felt like him. He’s a boy who doesn’t always think highly of himself, is something of a social misfit often making mistakes, and comes across as timid and lacking confidence. Things don’t often go the way that he wishes they would, but despite it all, that never changes the fact that deep down, he still remains a good person with a genuinely likable presence. He's a boy whose experiences we can easily empathize with, that we root for to succeed, and the film absolutely nails the character in all these areas.

Those same timeless issues that establish the character become one of the movie’s central themes, and which encapsulate much of its charm and grace. It becomes something of an ode to childhood, both in the good, and the bad experiences, acting both as a gateway for adults to relive their own cherished memories, and just as elegantly introducing it to its newer following without feeling the need to dumb anything down. It’s here where Blue Sky adapts quickly to the appropriate mood of the material at their hands. Rather than try to “update” the world of Peanuts with non-stop pop culture references, dialogue and slang that’s a product of its time, as well as cheap stunt casting to put names on the poster, the filmmakers have enough faith in the material to let it speak for itself, and provide their own gleeful imaginative spin on the material, especially in the “choppy” animation style that feels like one of the comic strips brought to life.

The film moves at a very brisk rhythm, making great use of the many trademark characters and staples at their disposal with often cute callbacks and easter eggs, and has an especially tickling sense of humor. Much of that humor comes courtesy of Peanuts co-mascot, Charlie’s pet beagle Snoopy, who aside from contributing to the main narrative following his owner, actually gets his own side-plot with fellow friend Woodstock, often engaging in fantasy sequences recreating his imaginary sky-high interactions with the infamous Red Baron, all of which are so visually imaginative and hugely entertaining thanks to their lovable energy, and even took me back to my experiences playing “Epic Adventure” when I was much younger. While Snoopy himself does border on being overexposed with the amount of focus placed on him, it still gets the character’s charming and mischievous personality just right, and never feels nearly as forced upon the audience as Blue Sky’s own Scrat became. Speaking of which, the film even comes accompanied by a Scrat short film… and they’ve clearly run out of ideas for him.

In different hands, it could have been as misbegotten as The Smurfs or Scooby-Doo, but much thanks is owed to Blue Sky for their respect and love for Peanuts shining through in every frame of this new movie. Short, sweet, and respectful to its viewers both old and young, its simplicity becomes its greatest charm, and easily makes it Blue Sky’s best feature film to date.

**** / *****

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