Monday, June 22, 2015

The Peanuts Movie

A year or two ago, I heard the first rumblings of the 2015 release of The Peanuts Movie. My initial reaction was, "Oh, hell no."

I am a life-long fan of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. Before I was even born, my brother was reading endless stacks of Peanuts comic books, so when I became conscious enough to realize my big brother was my hero, I naturally took on great love for things he liked. This included the great works of Charles Schulz.

Aaron and I, at Grandma's house, reading comic books.

I still have that doll. It does not look that good these days.

I cried--as in needing-a-tissue, feeling-really-sad--when Charles Schulz passed away. He died on a weekend, and the following Monday, I was signed up to read an article in a writing class I was taking at Chico. Everyone had to take a turn, and the only requirement was that the article we picked had to be an example of what we thought was good writing. I had something planned, but ended up scrapping it in favor of a really lovely write-up from the Sacramento Bee, about Schulz' life and legacy. I can remember that everyone in the class loved it, including the professor. Charlie Brown and Snoopy are indelibly embedded into American culture. For years, I've had a propensity for saying "Good grief!" I can't tell you how many times people have responded, "Good grief, Charlie Brown!!" with big smiles.

Summer and I went to the grand opening of the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa in 2002 (we're due to go back next week, as we'll be in town for a Ben Folds concert), and as we stood in line waiting our turn to get in, the employees called out trivia questions. I kept answering them correctly, and faster than anyone else in line. After four or five, I stopped answering, even though I knew the answers, simply because I wanted to let other people have a chance at a prize.

But seriously, HOW do people now know the answer to "What follows Snoopy around?" (It's chocolate chip cookies.)

Anyway, where I'm going with this is that I've been a huge fan of all things Peanuts for a very long time. For a full-length animated feature to come out so long after Schulz' death--especially in light of the fact that he did not have anyone take over the strip when he retired and subsequently passed--seemed dangerous ground to me. The magic of Charlie Brown and Snoopy lies in the simple appeal that Schulz himself gave them.

Still, it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement a little. Especially when the movie posters started to be released:





Then came the first trailers, both very similar, both featuring Snoopy in his Flying Ace persona (my favorite of his alter egos) and the adorable Woodstock and his bird friends, who always make me giggle.




Okay, okay. This looks really cute.

I saw some initial complaints from others on Facebook about the music in the trailers--people seemed antsy about modern music being used in conjunction with Guaraldi's famous score. I wasn't as concerned about that--only that the movie stay true to what Schulz created Peanuts to be. So far, so good.

Last week, a three-minute trailer was released for the movie, and I watched it with great anticipation.


The verdict?

I love it. I can't wait for the movie to open in November--I will be there on opening day with bells on. And possibly a Snoopy shirt. Okay, definitely a Snoopy shirt.

Everything I love about the Peanuts gang is present. Charlie Brown remains that ever-hopeful Everyman who just can't seem to win for trying. Snoopy's huge imagination is intact, and Lucy's brutal snottiness, as well. She's hard to like, Lucy, and we've all known one...but as a character, I love her. Some of the cutest punchlines and gags--Frieda's "naturally curly hair" and Pig Pen's seeming obliviousness to how his dust is off-putting to others, for example--are showcased. Schroeder has his piano in his desk at school. Sally is the impossible little sister. My one complaint is that this trailer doesn't show enough Linus, but I know he'll be more featured in the movie, and I dearly hope his tendency to be philosophical will remain.

And Franklin! Schulz was the first cartoonist to "desegregate" his comic strip, and he took some flak for it--but by all accounts I've seen, he didn't care if he lost readers over it. To include a black character, going to school with the white characters, in the 1960s was a huge commentary--and yet, only one of many he made in the many years he was drawing.

And while the plot of the movie seems to closely follow Schulz' creation and intent for the characters, there's a little bit of "now" thrown in. To make a movie like this 15 years after the death of the cartoonist is risky--how do you make it relevant to today's audience while still retaining what made Peanuts magical to kids in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s? There are little bits and pieces--a hint of Charlie Brown having an "entourage," Snoopy's "Mission: Impossible" entrance into the classroom...and yet, Snoopy is still using a typewriter on his doghouse (no laptops for this beagle!).

It looks, to me, as though the creators of The Peanuts Movie have been extremely careful in taking a much-loved American comic strip and bringing it to the 21st century, and to new generations of fans who will love it. Already, my friend Lindsay has said she'd love to take her little boy to see it, and I'm sure he, too, will love Snoopy's silliness and Woodstock's infectious bird-giggle. He'll love the gags that make me smile every single time. I give them mad props for the respect and restraint they've shown--at least, that I can see in the trailers so far. One of Schulz' sons and a grandson are listed as producers, and no doubt that is one reason why.

Even better--the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock are taken from archived footage of the late Bill Melendez, who always voiced them in the TV specials. For some reason, this makes me happy. The movie's director, Steve Martino, says, "Listening to the clips of him laughing as Snoopy--that is liquid gold..." Oh, indeed.

I've found this great article, from last year, which explains how Craig Schulz and his son Bryan first came up with the idea of a Peanuts movie in 2006. "No one is more protective of the comic strip than myself," Craig has said.

This movie will be a special one for me--so many great childhood memories come from Aaron and I both loving Charlie Brown and Snoopy. I can remember Mom making us popcorn so we could watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and Grandma Bean "talking" to a ratty old Snoopy doll that I still have to this day--he's never been packed away, but rather sits on my bookcase in a place of honor. Who knows? Maybe he'll ride along in my purse for the movie--my way of bringing Grandma along. Aaron, too, who lives in Idaho and won't be here to see it with me.


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