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Blu-ray Review: “The Peanuts Movie”

Blu-ray Review: "The Peanuts Movie"

It should come as no
surprise that The Peanuts Movie feels
right at home on the small screen. Generations are accustomed to seeing Charlie
Brown and the gang in the comfy, intimate home format.

 

“Intimate” and “comfy” also apply
to the film itself. Few if any animated franchise reboots have ever come so
close to capturing the essence of the original property. An immense credit is
due to the film’s creators—and the powers that be that might have dictated a subjectively
“relevant,” “contemporary” or “edgy” approach—that this film is so restrained
and unpretentious.

 

The Peanuts Movie is highly deceptive. On the surface, it plays like a feature-length classic
TV special, albeit done in a CG style (which to baby boomers might conjure
memories of Mattel’s “Cartoon Maker,” which rendered gently dimensional Peanuts
figures in “Plastigoop”). It’s a low-key tentpole feature in a noisy movie
marketplace of short attention thrill ride-level expectations. It’s downright
revolutionary (and more than a little risky) that it was decided to make this
feature so seemingly simple and straightforward. Even the previous four Peanuts
feature films took the characters out of their neighborhood or altered the
format to “open it up” for the big screen (something The Peanuts Movie does
with Snoopy’s Red Baron battles).

 

Yet when you look closer, The Peanuts Movie is an extremely
complicated technological achievement, employing a fresh form of CG to balance
the flat Schulz drawings. There is also line animation for Charlie Brown’s
thoughts and stylized realism for the Snoopy’s dreams. The pace is actually faster than that of the TV cartoons, with
rapid cutting between gags and among moments with each individual character,
who each get enough screen time to convey their personalities.

 

The relationship between
Charlie Brown and others is ever so carefully softened to be ever so slightly
less dark. He helps his sister at the talent show, Snoopy teaches him to dance,
for example. In most Peanuts incarnations, the characters are more isolated
from Charlie Brown and each other. The Schulz visions of life’s difficulties in
lights and darks are balanced, yet if you compare the film to the specials, The
Peanuts Movie is a tad lighter.


Familiar moments (particularly
those of A Charlie Brown Christmas) are
seamlessly interspersed with new gags in the spirit of Schulz. There is a considerable
amount of new material in this film. The storyline toggles between Charlie
Brown’s struggles against real life failure and Snoopy’s flights of fantasy,
intersecting here and there, and finally coming to a conclusion that succeeds
on its own terms. The novice viewer gets an “origin” story of sorts while the
longtime fan is given new angles and numerous “in jokes.”

 

Technique is often the
central focus of animated features. The
Peanuts Movie
pushes them into the background. Strange as it seems, it
shares one aspect with one of Charles Schulz’s favorite films, Citizen Kane—the constant concealment of
its special effects trickery from the average viewer (listen to Roger Ebert’s superb
audio Kane commentary for the
exhaustive list).

 

In another quiet break with
tradition, the young actors in this film were not recorded line by line as they
were in the TV specials, but the tonal quality is authentic. It’s worth noting
that, in addition to edited vocal effects from the late Bill Melendez for
Snoopy and Woodstock, new vocal effects were recorded for Snoopy’s love
interest, Fifi, by Kristen Chenowith. Her pre-Wicked breakout role as Sally in
the Broadway debut of You’re a Good Man,
Charlie Brown
earned a Tony Award. Chenowith squeaked and cooed as Fifi
this voice with no public fanfare, surely out of affection for Peanuts and the
way it affected her life.

 

Those of us who grew up
during the turbulence of the late ’60s and early ’70s have a unique bond with
Charles Schulz iconic creation. Loving Peanuts
was one of the few things everyone could agree upon. Woe to those who messed
with them after the passing of the person who made them so real. That The Peanuts Movie carried off such a
daunting challenge, to such artistic and financial success makes it–to borrow
a phrase from Peppermint Patty’s dad–a “rare gem.”

 

The Blu-ray and DVD extras
tend to favor the family market over the enthusiast. Only two features are exclusive
to the 3-D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/Digital HD and Blu-ray/Digital HD (Target stores
also offer the latter with a plush Snoopy):

 

1. You Never Grow Old, Charlie Brown

This is the only meaty bonus
feature for fans of Peanuts and animation (it also serves as an overview of the
franchise to newer viewers. It’s a half-hour
documentary with appearances by director Steve Martino, members of the Schulz
family, co-producer Paul Feig (creator of Freaks
and Geeks
and director of Bridesmaids)
and others. More such material would have been good for the consumer as well as
the property itself, since there is so much to the world of Peanuts. While the
audience for this release is a wide “Target” market (sorry for the pun), such
an important and successful film should have included an audio commentary and a
few more support features aimed at older kids and adults.

 

2. Snoopy’s Sibling Salute

A short extension of the
above doc, focusing on the scene late in the film in which Snoopy shares root
beers with his family, including Belle, Olaf and Spike.

 

The following eleven features
are included on all versions, including the single DVD:

 

1. Gallery

Concept art, color keys and
characters.

 

2. Trailers

Five versions, including one
for the holidays.

 

3. Six Snoopy Snippets
These are amusing short visual
blackout gags that was likely created for interstitials and other promotional
uses.

 

4, 5 & 6. Learn to Draw Snoopy, Woodstock and
Charlie Brown

Film director Steve Martino
draws the characters, pointing out moments to pause the disc and complete each
stage. Martino’s experience—and his use of a snazzy artist’s brush/pen thingy afford
him the skill of variant lines on his drawings. Homemade results may not be
quite so polished, but should improve with practice (and the pen/brush thingy).

 

7. “It’s Better When I’m Dancin’” Meghan Trainor
Video – Lyric Version

Since Snow White, pop hits are marketing prerequisites for animated
features. This is a tween pop catchy tune heard, appropriately, at the school
dance in the movie. The “Lyric” version of the music video is Peanuts-centered,
with movie clips and graphics in which the characters dance.

 

8. “It’s Better When I’m Dancin’” Meghan Trainor
Video – Music Version

This version combines live
action Trainor, her family and friends as they cavort on the Fox backlot with
animated Peanuts characters. It’s a nice, colorful production as videos go and
sure to please its intended audience.

 

9. Behind the Scenes of “Better When I’m Dancin’”

Pretty much what the title
suggests.

 

10. Get Down with Snoopy and Woodstock Music Video

Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and
Lucy” gets a rhythmic new mix set to dance scenes and sight gags from the film.

 

11. Snoopy’s Playlist

The songs, melodies and even
Christophe Beck’s underscore are cued up in case you want to listen to them.
They are not isolated from the dialogue and sound effects, however.

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