Saturday, November 07, 2015

Good Grief, Charlie Brown!

Possible spoilers ahead.

Way to make a thirty-seven-year-old woman cry in the movie theater.

Last night, I finally saw the much-anticipated Peanuts Movie. I've been waiting anxiously for a while to see it, since the trailers convinced me that they were not going to ruin my childhood (and adulthood) favorite.

From the opening credits, I was charmed--there, on the big screen, was the very distinctive scrawl of Charles Schulz, just as it appeared in so many comic strips in the fifty years of publication. From start to finish, the movie (creatively led, from the very start, by Schulz' son and grandson) stayed as true as it possibly could to the comic strip that gave it life.

I am not a movie critic; I am a life-long fan of the Peanuts strip. Therefore, I don't come at this post from a film critic perspective. I won't discuss plot holes, but instead, how the movie stood up to my expectations as someone who read the strip from childhood (in the 1980s) through to its very end, in February 2000. I am a fan who cried when news of Schulz' death was released. I can answer inane trivia about the Peanuts Gang. I noticed little things in the movie that others around me may not have.

Case in point: Mendelson Melendez Moving. When the Little Red-Haired Girl's family moves to town, the moving van clearly has the words Melendez Moving--a beautiful nod to the late animator Bill Melendez, a long-time colleague with Schulz in every animated Peanuts TV special, and to Lee Mendelson, who also worked on the many TV specials. Melendez was also a talented voice actor who voiced Snoopy in Woodstock for many years. He died seven years ago, but his voice recordings were used to voice Snoopy and Woodstock in the movie. I love this.

I also noticed the SparkPlug comic that Charlie Brown hands to a friend--Charles Schulz was nicknamed "Sparky" for this character.

Of course, one of the biggest draws for me is always going to be Snoopy. I adore Snoopy, with his larger-than-life imagination (which Schulz often said was a reaction to the very sad and boring life of a dog in the back yard) and his antics. There was plenty of World War I Flying Ace adventure to provide some action, with comic relief added by Woodstock and his bird friends as bumbling mechanics to Snoopy's suave Ace.

It's been pointed out that there are some differences between the movie and canon--for example, in the strip, Linus was not in the same class as Charlie Brown and Lucy, who are older. And Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin live in a different neighborhood in the strip, whereas in the movie, they attend the same school. For some people, that's annoying, but for me, it kept things cleaner, and allowed the plot to progress better. I was glad to see a little more of Violette, Patty, and Shermy in their minor roles, and also that while she remains unnamed, we see the face and hear the voice of the Little Red-Haired Girl.

Where the movie really shined for me was in Charlie Brown himself. One of the most endearing things about the Peanuts strip is that no matter how badly he fails, no matter how much others laugh at him, Charlie Brown never gives up, and he never holds back from doing the right thing. This remains true in the movie, as he gives up his own chance for talent show glory to help his little sister, and later, when he realizes there was a mix-up and he did not get a perfect score on a test at school, he acknowledges the mistake in front of everyone, even knowing his sudden, new-found popularity will be lost.

What was ultimately the most satisfying part, is that he is rewarded for this at the end. I won't spoil it here; just know that it is very sweet and it's the part that had me happily crying into a rough movie theater napkin. Charlie Brown is a true Everyman character, and to see him get his moment was sweet...even if, a few minutes later, Lucy does pull the football away. Again.

The more cynical among us will moan about the "lack of melancholy" in the movie--I disagree. There's enough, and while, yes, Charlie Brown is, perhaps, a little bit less introspective and philosophical as he was in the comic strip, there is so much that remains true that it hardly matters. If, like me, you grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and all of the other holiday specials, you'll love the nostalgia, and appreciate Snoopy's typewriter, and Charlie Brown's rotary phone. You'll love the innocence of the story, coupled with the adorable humor of Snoopy, acting out the role of the Flying Ace, popping up in Franklin's bathtub, or using Marcie's glasses--on her face--as binoculars.

Go see it.

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