Sunday, 20 December 2015

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (2015) - Movie Review
Is there a single character in the entirety of fiction that better represents childhood depression more than Charlie Brown? Seriously, he’s the on-again-off-again punching bag of all his peers, he is the product of a society where the children act far more like adults than the actual adults do and, for whatever reason, life as a whole seems to take great pleasure in taking a massive dump on his day for its own amusement. That skit from Family Guy where Charlie ends up as a thuggish stoner might be an optimistic expectation, all things considered. Still, even with all that baggage, he and the rest of the Peanuts canon are yet another staple of pop culture. Most of it came out before I was even born and, without seeing any of it for myself, elements of it are just that pervasive that they have always stuck with me: Charlie’s aforementioned emotional scars, the football gag, “You blockhead!”, Patty and Marcie’s ‘relationship’, the cripplingly sad songs that would show up in the TV specials and movies, “No dogs allowed!”; the list goes on. So, even though I am going into this with little to no prior experience with the series, it would be nearly impossible to go into this film completely blind.

The plot: When a new Red-Haired Girl joins his class, Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) immediately develops a crush for her. However, because of his string of bad luck and shyness around her, he fears that he may never get a chance to get to know her. With the help of his faithful dog Snoopy, he partakes in a number of activities in the hopes of making a good impression; given how he is viewed as a joke by the rest of the school, it may be the only chance he’ll have to find someone.

The animation is done in a style that is meant to pay tribute to the franchise’s hand-drawn origins. Usually, 3D that is done to emulate 2D doesn’t end up looking right and will just bring up that age-old question of “Why didn’t you just do it with line drawings to begin with?” However, the CGI here looks really good as it doesn’t necessarily keep the flat style but rather uses the round character designs and simple facial expressions to make for a decent update to the series’ visual aesthetic. Of course, since it’s set mostly around a schoolboy and his social misadventures, the film doesn’t feature a lot of visually intense sequences. That is, until Snoopy’s fantasy world kicks in. Throughout the film, there’s a running sub-plot about Snoopy writing a story about himself as a WWII ace fighter pilot, complete with depictions of the events of the story. Here, between the sleek movements and the appropriately detailed designs, it manages to deliver probably the best animation Blue Sky Studios have ever been involved with. Sure, that may seem like damming with faint praise, since these are the same people who brought us the Ice Age and Rio films, but this shows a definite sign of good things to come… hopefully. Judging by how bizarre the Scrat short before this film was, I’m guessing that “good things to come” isn’t going to count the next Ice Age film, but I’ll leave that for its own inevitable review.

Ordinarily, me calling a film “inoffensive” or “harmless” would be as an insult to said film. Media should be at least a little abrasive and challenging, otherwise there isn’t much point in it existing. In this case, I use both of them entirely as complements; it’s rare that a film that is this warm and likeable is released without some kind of self-sabotage being involved to water it down. I don’t want to make any misinformed statements about how respectful it is to the Peanuts franchise, given my admitted unfamiliarity with it, but judging by how the film is co-written by both the son and grandson of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, I’m willing to bet that that is indeed the case. The humour on display is the kind that adds to just how long the name Charlie Brown has been in public knowledge, comprised of self-contained character humour and good-natured slapstick.

This is definitely helped by how a lot of the series’ eccentricities, like how overly mature the children think and how foghorn the adults sound (credit to Trombone Shorty for his work on their voices), are presented in the best way possible. Unless told otherwise, apart from a couple of moments, this doesn’t feel like the latest and relatively faithful addition of a franchise that is over 60 years old. Even how much Charlie Brown gets thrown around physically and mentally, while still being true to his classic ‘breakdown waiting to happen’ persona, his actions and reactions are all strangely relatable. That is quite impressive, considering this film features him being able to read and critically analyse Tolstoy’s War And Peace over a single weekend. Then again, this is a guy trying to ingest and understand media far above his own intelligence; I don’t want to come across as too hypocritical.

All in all, if you want feels this holiday season, this is where you’ll find them. The acting hits all the right notes, the animation is better than ever could have been expected from Blue Sky, the sense of humour is ideal for both kids and adults and the writing overall continues with the kind of timeless sentiment that has allowed Peanuts to carry on for as long as it has. It may not be the most thought-provoking child-friendly film in the world but, after seeing just how bad family fare can get this year alone, actually being funny and charming is still worth being celebrated.

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