Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Peanuts Movie



Peanuts Envy

Snoopy and Charlie Brown - The Peanuts Movie
2015 USA
Directed by Steve Martino
UK cinema release print.


Well this movie was an unexpected treat. I don’t know why this has been released over here as Snoopy And Charlie Brown - The Peanuts Movie instead of just The Peanuts Movie... the characters aren’t exactly unknown to us over here in the UK. However, it’s the title I’ve gone for here because I remembered that the original creator, Charles M. Schulz, never really liked the title Peanuts, which was thrust on him in the early days as a name change for the original strip.

I’ve been a fan of good ol’ Charlie Brown and the gang for pretty much my entire life. I used to love watching the TV specials on television, and grooving along to Vince Guaraldi’s amazing soundtracks for them. And for the first 20 or so years of my life, my parents used to get The Observer newspaper and magazine delivered to our door on a Sunday morning. One of the big plusses to that was that it used to run a full colour Peanuts featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown strip in full colour somewhere near the back of the mag. I would, of course, read it every Sunday and later, I started buying old second hand collections and read classic old tomes, some of them dating right back to the earliest strips in the 1950s.

I saw what I think must have been the first teaser trailer for this new movie at least a year ago on the internet. I kinda kept clear of all the later trailers because... well, that first trailer bothered me a lot. It looked like they’d got the tone wrong somehow. Now I can’t remember enough about it to work out if any of the footage from that trailer was dropped from the film but I can say that, having seen the film itself, it’s absolutely spot on in terms of being copacetic with the original strips and TV cartoons. I actually had nothing to worry about and there’s nothing out of character or too modern in this film which would detract from the spirit of the originals, I'd say.

One of the ways it tries to add dynamism to the talking head style of the humour of Schulz’ beloved characters is to have some action pieces thrown in every now and again but, honestly, they aren’t any more obtrusive than similar action pieces thrown into earlier films and these ones are mostly a completely logical extension, if logical is the right word for the inherent surrealism of the characters, of the usual Snoopy fantasy set pieces you used to get in the strip and sometimes thrown into the movies. These are a running series of pieces and concentrate on Snoopy in his familiar World War One Flying Ace guise as he tries to save the sexy Fifi from the clutches of his arch nemesis, The Red Baron.

The main story set all around this centres on Charlie Brown and it involves the long told saga of his crush on ‘the little red haired girl’ who arrives as a new character in this movie. As Charlie goes through the usual humiliating trials and tribulations in his quest to win the eye of the little red haired girl, we are treated to many touches and nods to the original strips and shows and I really can’t imagine fans of my age (and I’m probably not the intended target audience, for sure) not being happy with this. We have stuff like Lucy and her psychiatric booth, Lucy and the football (you need to wait and lurk amidst the end credits for this scene... among others), Snoopy trying to make off with Linus’ blanket, Charlie’s prowess (or lack of prowess thereof) flying a kite and all the things you could possibly want in a full length version. There are even a few scenes where the old style black and white ink drawings are used in loving homage, as Charlie thinks back to days gone by.

Christophe Beck provides a new score for a lot of the film which is often appropriate for the on screen action but, it has to be said, some of the sequences are greatly lifted when the decision is made in certain scenes to track in Vince Guaraldi’s amazing jazz compositions from the original shows... or they might be re-recorded for the movie, I’m not sure if it’s needle dropped in or not, to be honest. But the familiar music does well to set up the opening of the movie and it especially kicks in well when the famous Linus and Lucy theme is used a few times later in the film. It’s not that Beck has done a bad score... far from it... but how do you compete with the brilliance of Vince Guaraldi? The answer is, you don’t but Beck’s score comes off surprisingly well in comparison, too.

Another great thing about the movie is the voice casting. Lots of Peanuts shows and movies over the years have been spot on with their voice casting in such a way that, although it’s often a different set of actors voicing the characters in the many cartoons (kids grow up fast and their voices change accordingly), they almost always manage to get everyone sounding just like the characters did when they appeared in moving image form in that very first Christmas TV special from 1965. This new movie does exactly the same and there’s no jarring reactions to be had... everybody sounds just as they should... including Woodstock and Snoopy. In fact, in terms of these two, it’s still Bill Melendez who provided their voices in most (perhaps all?) of the cartoons. Although he died a while ago, the makers have gone to the trouble to use the old recordings and utilise them in this film... with absolutely no change of credibility in the sound quality either. The samples used match the shininess of all the rest of the sound in the movie, for sure.

My one disappointment in this one was that, although we do get to see Snoopy in his Joe Cool alter ego, we don’t get a rendition of Vince Guaraldi’s accompanying song... which is a shame but, I’m sure if there’s a sequel to this one (which there certainly deserves to be) then they’ll get around to it.

But that’s really my only complaint. If you’re a fan of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Sally, Linus, Lucy, , Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Franklin, Pig Pen and all the rest, then you’re bound to have a good time with this new version of their on screen adventures. And if this is your first time with the Peanuts crowd... well my friends who I went with took their two year old along with us to see it and all I can say is... he seemed to really like it. Pointing at the screen, keeping quiet through most of it and falling asleep at the end credits. Which is a good recommendation itself, I suspect, for all of you who want to keep your little ones entertained/quiet. This is a great little movie and if I’d had seen it at the tail end of last year when it came out, I suspect it would have made its way into my top twenty of 2015 easily enough. Good grief.

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