"Peanuts": The Joy in Finding the Antithesis of Modern Animation
Review: "The Peanuts Movie"
This past weekend, "The Peanuts Movie" slid comfortably into second place at the box office with an impressive $44.2M domestic haul. It also fared well critically, and now stands as Blue Sky Studios' highest rated film to date. (I'll refrain from reitierating that Blue Sky is still merely the third best animation studio standing, behind Pixar and Illumination Entertainment...I mean, whoops.)
And that's all fine and dandy. Because it's a good movie and good movies should be rewarded with positive box office numbers that will undoubtedly pave the way for sequels--each of which will ultimately introduce the "Peanuts" gang to a brand new generation of audience members. But oddly enough, I don't believe children are the film's target demographic. This is a movie that's so keenly aware of its origins and the things which propelled it to the front of the world's collective holiday programming schedule. They weren't going to make a "Peanuts" movie in 2015 without making a few blatant references to the enormously popular Thanksgiving and Christmas specials which made this new project possible in the first place. In doing so though, you don't create much of anything that hasn't already been done before. A simple way to describe this new film's few failings would be "faithful to a fault."
Charlie Brown is still everyone's favorite lovable loser, aka the good-hearted kid that can't seem to catch a break. He'll practice pitching to snowmen and his dog on a cold winter day and still get lit up for home run after home run. He's not afraid to potentially embarass himself if it means helping out his younger sister, but he's still terrified at the prospect of talking to the pretty, new girl in his class. I think Charlie Brown is the type of kid all parents' want their own to be, if for nothing more than the sturdy moral ground and deadfast earnestness in (most) all situations. But he still remains largely the butt of elementary school jokes because of his perpetual bad luck.
Despite that, "Peanuts" has forever and always found the right mix between sadness and happiness, alongside an uncanny ability to portray childhood depression at some basic level. That's also true here. Audience members undoubtedly expect to see down-on-his-luck Charlie Brown throughout the film, but it's balanced with the right amount of upbeat dance numbers to counteract the former. And plus, one of the film's greatest testaments is that it manages to do that while refraining from borrowing "popular song X" from today's culture and shoehorning it into the production. Sure, they got Megan Trainor to sing one song to help sell soundtracks, but that's held off until the end credits.
So while you have to respect a film for sticking to its roots, you kind of also have to feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of (for lack of a better term) ambition. There's ambition in the animation and good work put into making it so darn likable, but you're not crazy for wanting just a little bit more.
One of the reasons last year's "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is so revered is because it wasn't afraid to take a rather monumental risk by scrapping its predecessor's formula and getting real dark real fast. (Spoiler alert: There ain't going to be a dry eye in the house) Not to say that Snoopy's Red Baron alter ego should face the same amount of peril during his aerial adventures (that'd veer way too much towards just off-putting), but who doesn't want to experience a film that can pack a punch that's just a little bit harder?
The 5-12 year old kids in the audience. That's who. But again, for as much as this movie is geared for their consumption, it's not. Show me a kid that receives brand new Snoopy merchandise for Christmas this year and I'll show you an ecstatic parent that's just as happy to share the innocent childhood entertainment they loved so much with their own children.
All this sounds like an awful lot of criticism for a film that's impossible to dislike. It's sweet, it's silly, and it harkens back to a time in children's entertainment when you didn't need a fast-talking purple squirrel singing along to a terribly-inappropriate LMFAO song in order for kids to like it. That's what these films should be. Yes, you can get deep and emotional, but bring it back to something that's re-watchable. So much animation these days is inherently disposable (looking at you, "Minions"), so if nothing else, I loved "The Peanuts Movie" for being the very antithesis of that. Could it have done more? Sure. But at it's core, it's great fun that may just reset the bar for the plethora of studios that make a habit of spewing out brightly colored garbage each year that they can just hope sticks.
FINAL VERDICT: 8 misplaced book reports out of 10.