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Director: Steve Martino
Release Date: November 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

‘The Peanuts Movie’ was a project initiated by Craig Schulz, son of Charles M. Schulz, creator of the famous comic strip, and his own son, Bryan Schulz. The two chose the Blue Skye studio for fulfilling their dream, as the studio had been faithful to Dr. Seuss before, in ‘Horton Hears a Who’ (2008). And indeed, this Blue Sky film is a much more satisfying product than the two later Dr. Seuss adaptations by Illumination.

Blue Skye, of course, is a 3D computer animation studio, but the studio has done a remarkable job in combining the 3D techniques with Schulz’s essentially flat drawings. This means that there are added textures and 3D settings in which the characters can move around and about.

But at no point the characters get distorted or become too realistic for their own good. Blue Sky doesn’t fall into the trap of Sony Animation’s ‘The Smurfs’ (2011), uglifying the original designs by trying to make them too realistic.

In fact, the studio does an amazing job in transferring Schulz’s drawings into a 3D world. It’s refreshing to see that the crew did no ill-conceived attempt to ‘update’ the characters and their setting. There are no new characters introduced, but also no computers or cellphones in sight, but old-fashioned rotary phones and typewriters.

And, true to the original comic, no adult can be seen, not even partly. Instead, we have the famous baseball mound, and even a scene featuring the stone wall present in so many comic strip panels. Even better, during the opening and in some thought scenes the film reverts back to Schulz’s original black and white 2D style, rendering the style of the original comic strip convincingly, indeed.

Moreover, the film is not only faithful to the original comic strip, but also to Bill Melendez’s animated interpretations of it (1965-2006). This means that all children are voiced by real children, all adults by a trombone sound (courtesy of Troy “Trombone” Shorty), and Snoopy’s and Woodstock’s incomprehensible jabberings by Bill Melendez himself (Melendez had died in 2008, so the vocalizations all come from archive material, but you’d never notice). The film clearly plays homage to Melendez’s vision, copying the dance moves of several characters from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (1965). Moreover, the film starts with two of Vince Guaraldi’s tunes for that famed first Peanuts television special: the iconic and intoxicating ‘Linus and Lucy’ and ‘Skating’.

All familiar Peanuts characters are introduced in the intro, even older ones like Shermy, Patty, Violet, Frieda and Pig Pen. But as every Peanut fan would hope, the film concentrates firmly on Charlie Brown, leaving all the other characters, except Lucy, rather sketchy. Even Linus hardly gets screen presence. As I’m a lifelong Peanuts fan, it’s hard for me to guess what impression the gang makes on newbies. For example, there’s Marcie, calling Peppermint Patty sir, and Lucy having a psychiatrist’s booth in the street. Wouldn’t this strike odd to newcomers? I’ve no idea, for as a fan, these familiar tropes are most welcome.

As said, the film concentrates on Charlie Brown. The film essentially is his story. We watch him playing baseball and flying kites, and failing at both, but the crew chose the most moving of all of Charlie Brown’s subplots: his love for the little red-haired girl. In the movie, she moves in as Charlie Brown’s neighbor, and becomes his new classmate. Unlike the strip, in which Charlie Brown’s dream girl is never seen, the little red-haired girl gets screen presence. But the crew cleverly keeps her mysterious, offering us just glimpses of her during most of the movie. Thus we see her mostly with Charlie Brown’s eyes as a desirable but unreachable creature.

Surprisingly, the film is neither hasty nor all too straightforward in unfolding its story. At one point Lucy gives Charlie Brown a book titles ’10 Ways to Become a Winner’, and for a while it seems this book will be guiding line the story will adhere to. Charlie Brown even manages to read the whole of ‘Leo’s Toy Store’ by Warren Piece (as Peppermint Patty recalls the famous Russian novel), all to no avail. But then another story arc starts, in which Charlie Brown mistakenly is seen as a school genius, which also ends prematurely. Likewise, most of the film takes place during winter, but near the end we suddenly skip to summer, and even to the last day of school. Overall, the film’s speed is relaxed and unhurried, focusing on Charlie Brown’s emotions, as he blunders through everyday life.

Yet, there’s enough of excitement, because Charlie Brown’s mishaps are alternated with scenes starring Snoopy, who has his own subplot as, could it be otherwise?, a World War I flying ace pilot combating the Red Baron, and rescuing a female fellow pilot called Fifi. I wasn’t familiar with Fifi, and though of her as the only new character in the movie, but even she has appeared before, in ‘Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown’ (1980). As a lot of Snoopy’s imagined action takes place in the air, these scenes make welcome use of all possibilities 3D animation offers, resulting in breathtaking air battle scenes, which of course become ridiculous as Snoopy flies his own dog house, instead of a proper World War I plane. Even better are the scenes in which Snoopy’s fantasy is altered with scenes from the real world, featuring Snoopy sneaking, running and diving into scenes to the bewilderment of the children.

In all, ‘The Peanuts Movie’ is a delightful film, refreshing with its focus on every day life, and rewarding in its faithfulness to the original comic strip. Only the end may be too cloying and too optimistic, out of tune with the persistent sense of failure so present in the original comic strip. Yet, Craig and Bryan Schulz can be proud of this product, for together with Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ this is the most rewarding American animated movie of 2015.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Peanuts Movie’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Peanuts Movie’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Release Date:  July 10, 1992
Rating: ★★
Review:

Cool World © Paramount‘Cool World’ looks like a poor man’s version of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit‘.

Sure, the film boasts Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger as leading actors, and it even features a title song by David Bowie, but Ralph Bakshi’s product feels half-baked and derivative compared to Touchstone’s milestone film from 1988.

The film’s main problem is its story: it features a weird and obligate prologue to explain (unconvincingly) why Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) even wanders in the ‘doodle world’. Only half way we can extract this world’s core problem: ‘doodles’ and ‘noids’ (real people) cannot have sex together, because this will distort the universe. But sexy doodle ‘Holli Would’ (yes, that’s her name) would. And she does, with her own creator Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne).

This idea is preposterous to start with, but the execution is worse. Frank Harris, who apparently has become a cop, wanders through cardboard sets most of the time, aimless and clueless. All dialogues feel wooden and disjointed, and in several key dialogue scenes the actors clearly aren’t even together in the same room (!) with Bakshi falling back to a very unconvincing technique of suggestion of continuity of space that goes all the way back to the Keystone Comedy films of the early 1910s.

Kim Basinger acts more like a caricature of a sexy woman than being one, and the role of Jack Deebs remains vague and unclear to the very end: if he’s the creator, why did Cool World already exist in 1945, if he’s not, why is he the only one depicting it? Frank Harris somewhere suggests that more visitors are coming to this world, why then is Harris the only one allowed to stay? It just makes no sense.

The film’s main attraction, of course, is the animation. Supervised by Bruce Woodside, most of the animation is in fact is quite good (the crew even boosts a veteran animator like Bill Melendez), if completely arbitrary most of the time. Many scenes are filled with random animated scenes, mostly rather violent, sometimes grotesque, sometimes harking back to Max Fleischer, Warner Bros. or Tex Avery, at other times spoofing Disney (a cute rabbit, a hippo from Fantasia emerging from cigarette smoke, Gepetto and Pinocchio depicted in the inside of one of Holli’s ‘goons’). Being a Bakshi film, ‘Cool World’ also features a fair deal of rotoscope, most clearly so on Holli Would and Brad Pitt’s flat doodle girl friend Lorette.

Despite the high quality of the full animation, the animated scenes are mostly insane, not funny. The best attempt at humor is the finale, in which Deebs inexplicably changes into a rather pompous superhero, completely losing his former character.

Unfortunately, the scenes in which animated characters interact with humans have nothing of the sophistication of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. Instead, Bakshi only deploys static scenes, a technique in existence since ‘The Three Caballeros‘, and in no scene in which ‘doodles’ and humans touch each other, one has the feeling that this is really happening.

Sadly, we must conclude that a lot of animation talent has been wasted on a meandering, clueless, badly written and badly directed film, with an immature focus on sex. The film did bad at the box office, and I’m afraid I must judge rightly so.

Watch the trailer for ‘Cool World’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cool World’ is available on DVD

Director: Bill Meléndez
Release date: December 4, 1969
Stars: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus van Pelt, Schroeder, e.o.
Rating:  ★★★★★
Review:

A Boy Named Charlie Brown © Lee Mendelson FilmsMade after six television specials, ‘A Boy Named Charlie Brown’ is Meléndez’ first feature film about the Peanuts gang.

It is a film with a slow, but steady pace: unhurried, yet not too slow. Being totally relaxed, the film takes a long time to introduce the characters, citing a lot of Peanut comic strip gags, and showing Charlie Brown’s troubles in flying kites and playing baseball. Only after 30 minutes the head story kicks in, when Charlie Brown enters a spelling bee.

The laid-back feel of the film is further enhanced by two surprising musical numbers: Snoopy’s playing of the American National Anthem and Schroeder’s playing of the complete second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata pathétique, which is arguably the film’s highlight. Snoopy receives a fair deal of screen-time, and two of his fantasies are shown: him as a pilot in World War I and as a skater in Holland and in an ice-hockey game. Nevertheless, the story remains with Charlie Brown and his doomed attempt to gain respect. His frustrations and failure are funny, but remain genuine and heartfelt. This focus make the film a well-made tribute to Charles M. Schulz’s strip of the early 1960s, when Charlie Brown’s frustrations were the strip’s main focal point.

Overall, the designs are gorgeous, especially in the musical interludes, which feature bold, colorful images. The jazzy score, too, is a delight, and enhances the film’s unique atmosphere. In all, ‘A Boy Named Charlie Brown’ is a great film which has a typical 1960s feel without ever getting cheap.

Watch ‘A Boy Named Charlie Brown’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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