March 24, 2016

filmsgraded.com:
The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Grade: 57/100

Director: Steve Martino
Stars: Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Hadley Belle Miller

What it's about. The first Peanuts feature film in nearly two generations, and the first since the death of creator Charles Schulz. Reminiscent of The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), the cartoon revisits myriad memorable moments from the half-hour television shorts from the 1960s and 1970s, but the 3-D animation is a significant departure.

As usual, Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy are the featured characters. The former is bald (said to have light-colored hair, but we remember the Halloween special where the mean girls design pumpkin carving on the back of his head), socially insecure, and prone to humiliation. Snoopy is just the opposite: he is socially confident and aggressive, and prefers Walter Mitty fantasies to the humdrum of life.

Charlie's shallow and insipid younger sister is Sally. She continues to have a crush on Linus, a deep-thinker and pacifist who is also Charlie's best friend. Linus has a take-charge older sister Lucy, whose crush on would-be pianist Schroeder is unrequited.

The little red-haired girl moves into town and is new in school, even though she has appeared decades before in many shorts and strips. Of course, Charlie has a crush on her from afar, since she is perfect in every way. She's even nice and polite, unlike every other girl in the school except Marcie, the best friend of tomboy Peppermint Patty.

Charlie schemes in vain how to win the love of the little red-headed girl. Meanwhile, Snoopy dreams up yet another World War I aerial duel with the Red Baron, this time with the plight of his fantasy girldog Fifi in the mix.

How others will see it. This relentlessly marketed movie paid off at the box office, and critics were generally favorably. At Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 87% fresh rating. At imdb.com, the user votes are a less effusive 7.2 out of 10, and the user vote total of 21K is less than expected, given the film's commercial success. The imdb grades are highest from minors (7.8) and lowest from adults aged 30 to 45 (7.0). The grades then rise to 7.5 from women over 45, presumably due to nostalgia and the putatively heart-warming moments that load up the final minutes before the credits.

How I felt about it. The Peanuts Movie came out about the same time as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the two films have plenty of other things in common: a huge marketing budget, a costly production, an immediate box office payoff, an absence of consequential festival awards, the gimmick of 3-D, and a look, script, and story that frequently paid homage to preceding franchise entries.

In the case of The Peanuts Movie, this means repeating lines and scenes from the Peanuts television specials from decades ago, particularly the two good ones that everyone has seen, namely the 1960s Christmas and Halloween shorts. The world of our characters is stuck in 1965, the year of the first (Xmas) special. Phones are clunky and have cords, and there are no cell phones, computers, or roller blades.

Nonetheless, the producers get some things wrong, relative to what Schulz would have wanted. In It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!, the Red Baron's plane is never seen. Patty, previously a secondary character who mostly serves as Lucy's "mean girls" friend, is attracted to Pig-Pen, somebody whom no girl interested in popularity would pursue. Snoopy teaching Charlie Brown how to dance is a novel character trait for the self-absorbed dog. Certainly, Schulz would have preferred retro 2-D animation over modern 3-D, particularly since the film appears to set during the 1960s.

In fact, the most compelling animation in the film are the black on white 2-D line drawings. Too bad the producers did not have the courage to journey down this route. Of course, the target audience is children, who expect the 3-D animation of the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Something similar can be said about the score, even though I like Meghan Trainor, and the movie could have picked someone considerably worse, such as Justin Bieber.

The movie's real problem, though, is that is boring. And never more so than during Snoopy's dogfights with the Red Baron, and his subplot of saving Fifi. Usually, Snoopy's antics were the highlight of the television specials. Not here.

The movie does get one thing right. Tolstoy's "War and Peace" really is the greatest novel ever. Seriously. It's closest competition is "Anna Karenina", also by Tolstoy.

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