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The Peanuts Movie: Turning Frowns into Smiles

As the 20th Century Fox fanfare comes on screen at the start of the film, I realize something is wrong. Instead of the usual brass wind and strings ensemble carrying the tone, it was something more muted and soft. And as the camera pans around the 20th Century Fox logo we see Schroeder, Charlie Brown’s musical friend, playing his piano to provide the melody to the familiar fanfare, and I’m like, “Wow. My mind is blown!”

That pretty much describes the rest of my experience with this new take on an age-old classic that shaped my childhood and that of millions of kids the world over for many, many decades.

It’s been a good 30 years since I last watched a Peanuts cartoon, so I was naturally excited to relive the good old days with the new Peanuts movie. It’s slated to air in Philippine cinemas this January 8.

 

A New Look for A Timeless Classic

I first saw the trailer to a few months back and I was struck with the modern 3D animation, but I noticed how choppy the frame rate on the animation was, which is similar to the stop-motion effect employed in the Lego Movie.

However, whereas in the Lego movie they purposefully worked to have the still animation emulate the old stop-motion animation features of the 80’s, the Peanuts movie did not need to take this approach and could have used the smooth animation we see in contemporary 3D animated features from Pixar or Disney.

Instead it takes on a weird fully-3D CGI look but stilted with “slow frames.” Yet, it just works. Director Steve Martino wanted to achieve a look that was faithful to the original comic strip work of Charles Schulz, and it came out beautifully.

You’ve never seen Peanuts as alive as you will in this film, but at the same time it still looks hand-drawn and comfortable like you remember reading in the Saturday morning paper.

It’s just the first of many nods to the original long-running Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz as you go through the 88 minute movie.

We see everything we would expect to see from the Peanuts gang, including Linus and his security blanket, Lucy’s psychiatric advice booth, Pig Pen turning into a dashing handsome man nobody recognizes when he gets cleaned up, to the adult’s voices sounding like wonky trombones, and of course what Peanuts movie would be complete without Lucy pulling the football from Charlie Brown’s kick.

The Peanuts World looks better than it's ever been.
The Peanuts World looks better than it’s ever been.

Tying Two Old Classics into Something New

Although the script was a new story put together by Charls Schulz, his son Craig and his grandson Bryan, the framework for the story is more tied to the events in the TV Special, “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown.”

As in that film, we see Charlie Brown obssessed over the Little Red-Haired Girl, for whom he falls for on first sight. The rest of the film deals with Charlie Brown’s insecurities over his inadequacy as he tries to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl and get closer to her.

Interspersed into Charlie Brown’s attempts to woo the apple of his eye are Snoopy’s adventure writings as the Flying Ace combating the villainous Red Baron. Here we see the nod to another classic TV Special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”  The film, however, does not deal with Linus’ pumpkin story and instead focuses entirely on Charlie Brown’s romance, and how his ups and downs prompt Snoopy’s parallels in wooing Fifi, the lady fighter pilot dog as he battles the Red Baron.

Perhaps my biggest and only real problem with the movie was that there was too much emphasis on Snoopy’s adventures as the Flying Ace. The movie is really about Charlie Brown and his dog, but I felt like there was too much Snoopy screentime and most of his imaginary adventures far outstage Charlie Brown’s real world meanderings.

I get that Snoopy is the mascot of the show and is without a doubt its most popular character, but I’ve always felt that Peanuts has always been more about Charlie Brown. This should reflect in the screentime given the characters, I say! But even though it often feels that Snoopy one-ups Charlie Brown, in the end I can say that Charlie Brown more than got his due share of glory in this film.

Linus didn't get his day in this movie, but he still gets tied up in his blanket.
Linus didn’t get his day in this movie, but he still gets tied up in his blanket.

A Brighter, Friendlier Peanuts

Perhaps one thing that is drastically different from the old TV specials is that this is a much brighter, friendlier version of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang that you’ve ever seen. Part of it has to do with the color and saturated look of the new 3D animation, but it’s how the story develops that gives this feeling.

Whereas the earlier animated films and specials often dealt with a lot of bullying, psychological insecurities and the bleak world of a young, unpopular American elementary school kid, here there is an air that it is never as heavy as it should be, and that everything will work out alright.

There’s none of jealousy we see from Peppermint Patty over Charlie Brown’s interest in the Little Red-Haired Girl, Lucy is not as big a bully as she used to be and even shows her grudging respect for Charlie Brown quite often.

Snoopy is still his mischievous, carefree self but is shown here to be a much more supportive and loyal friend of Charlie Brown than he ever was, and we never see him at his worst as he did in some of the old features, with his most unfriendly vibe coming in the form of very light arguments with his pal Woodstock. He even shows a very sweet side of himself at one point giving Charlie Brown a surprise perk when he as at his lowest.

 

A Road to Redemption

The biggest indication that this is a bigger, brighter and friendlier Peanuts than your old features is the strong feeling of redemption. The old animated features often showed Charlie Brown and/or one of his friends going through a rough patch, and although the conflict is often resolved, it’s often done so in a bittersweet, ironic way, ending on a flat tone of childhood disappointment. Think back to the TV special “Charlie Brown All-Stars,” where Charlie Brown’s baseball team is hard up for a team sponsorship, and Charlie Brown turns down a prospective sponsorship that won’t allow girls and dogs to be on a team. Although the team initially hates Charlie Brown for losing the sponsorship, they learn in the end he did it for them, but instead of a bright joyful flowery ending with everyone being friends and everything working out, instead we are left with a shot of Charlie Brown in the rain on the mound as nobody comes to play because it rains.

In this movie, we get none of that. We get bright flowers filling the air, the smell of roses, and the warm fuzzy feeling of friendship.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? I think it’s great. For decades we saw Charlie Brown trying so hard and failing or otherwise getting the short end of the stick. For once, it’s great to see the underdog getting his day.

In the original special “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown” and in the rest of the Peanuts media, The Little Red-Haired Girl is almost never seen on screen, and she never has a real role or even a speaking voice. Here, however, here we are given a real look at the Little Red-Haired Girl as she appears onscreen, and it all culminates in what may be the single sweetest moment in all of Peanuts history as she speaks for the very first time, and when she does what she says is so moving that it brought a tear to my eyes even through rose-tinted glasses.

I don’t know if it’s just a sign of the times, of people needing a good pick me up in a world that can often feel like its falling apart with the tough economic times, terrorist bombings and shootings everywhere in the news and refugee crisis from wars shifting massive amounts of people over the seas from Africa to Europe to Southeast Asia.

But having hope and redemption in an animated children’s film surely helps with all that hurt. I’m pretty happy with the tone they took with this movie, and there needs to be more of it everywhere.

It’s a great, powerful message to take home, that all your hard work and effort will finally pay off in the end, that it all meant something. That it’s okay to just be you and there is no need to change who you are, that you can expect good things just from doing the right thing, and that it’s all going to be okay. It’s certainly a great way to kick off 2016 and start the New Year right.

The Peanuts Movie Snoopy
Sometimes all you need is a hug to tell you that everything is gonna be alright.

 

In the end, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is about an insecure, troubled child who lacks in all the self-confidence in the world. But with hard work and effort and just being true to the good person that you naturally are, it all works out and someone is always there to appreciate you for who you are.

Is it a realistic ideal? Maybe not, but it’s something I’d like to see more of in the real world.

 

Come see the Peanuts Movie this January 8 in a theater near you!

 

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