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The Peanuts Movie

Posted on November 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles)
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2015
Date Released to DVD: February 29, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B018WXLHVM

I admit that I approached this film with some of the same trepidation Charlie Brown approaches the football, knowing Lucy’s history of pulling it out of the way at the last second. I’m a fan of Charles Schultz’s original comic strip and fond of many of the animated specials and features that were careful to preserve the simplicity of his aesthetic. I was concerned that a more fully-animated version (in 3D!) would drown out the gentle storylines. But Schulz’s family has been careful to preserve his legacy. The script is co-written by his son and grandson and is timed to appear on the 65th anniversary of the strip and the 50th anniversary of the classic “Charlie Brown Christmas” special. And Blue Sky (which made the “Ice Age” and “Rio” movies) understands the material and its audiences — the older generations who are attached to the original version and today’s children, who are new to these characters.

The brightly colored, rounded figures were easier to get used to than I feared. The iconic details — Charlie Brown’s yellow shirt with the brown zigzag (it turns out he has a whole closetful) and wisps of hair are familiarly iconic. It’s not a period piece but there is a timeless quality. Phones are corded landlines. We never see a laptop and no one ever checks Google or GPS. Indeed, one of the most important items in the story is a pencil. It has glitter and a feather decorating it, but it also has the teeth marks of its sometimes nervous owner, and that is something you won’t find on a smartphone.

The movie does not commit any serious blunders. There are pleasant moments and welcome echoes of the past, but it does not justify its existence by adding anything of value to the canon already available. The first and best of the television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is less than half an hour long, but it has more wit, charm, poignancy, than this feature film, and it includes one of the most beautiful holiday songs ever written, the piercingly bittersweet Christmastime is Here. In almost two hours, this film has time for just a snippet, to make room for inferior contemporary pop songs. A joke about “merch” seems ill-advised given the strip’s history of selling its characters for everything from insurance to toothbrushes.

The film begins promisingly, with Schroder playing the studio’s theme music on his piano and an immersive soft, gentle snowfall. It’s the most joyous day of the year — a snow day — and we meet the characters as they wake up and choose the winter activities they most enjoy. Charlie Brown decides it is a good time for him to try the kite again, figuring that the “kite-eating tree” will be out of commission in winter. It does not go well. Once school is back in session, a new student arrives, a girl with red hair, and Charlie Brown is smitten — and terrified. How can he impress her?

The Schulzes are true to the spirit of the original. We squirm with Charlie Brown as he agonizes over his insecurity, especially when he is faced with a dilemma at the school talent show and when he is awarded an honor it turns out he did not deserve. The sections with Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasy are of less interest and appeal and the 3D effects and the talents of top-tier musical stars (Trombone Shorty playing the “waa waas” for the adult voices and Kristen Chenoweth as Snoopy’s daring aviatrix love interest) are underused. The best use of this film is as an introduction to the classic television specials — and the original comic strips that inspired them.

Parents should know that this film includes some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, and some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles).

Family discussion: Which character is most like your friends? Which would you most want to be like? Why don’t we hear the grown-up voices?

If you like this, try: The Peanuts comic strip collections and the television specials.

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3D Animation Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week School Stories About Kids

Lucy and the Box Office: The Good News and the Bad News

Posted on August 1, 2014 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Last week, “Lucy” beat “Hercules” at the box office, good news for those who still think that women-led action films can’t make money. As blog The Mary Sue put it succinctly: “Today In Female-Led-Movies-Obviously-Don’t-Make-Money News, Lucy Beat Out Hercules This Weekend.”

Make no mistake, readers: as Susana Polo pointed out in her review on FridayLucy is not a good film and probably not worth spending money on to watch in-theaters (though neither is Hercules, of course). And yet, it made about 1.5 times more than Hercules at the box office this weekend.

On the other hand, this is not exactly a big step forward for stories that illuminate the experience of being a woman.  It does not pass the Bechdel test.  Jezebel’s Powder Room blog has a thoughtful assessment from C. Rhodes.  And also

Because the titular role is the only significant speaking role for a woman in the entire damned movie. We cannot (CANNOT) settle for this being a movie “for” feminism.

Because the trope of a woman getting psychically violated and used by a group of men is old, reinforces a lot of negative gender stereotypes on both sides, and frankly if you combine Brokedown Palace and Limitless we’ve already had this movie poured into our long-suffering eye-holes.

And because, most importantly, it’s one of the most racist things on a screen right now. The bad guys? Asian men. The entire movie focuses on her need to get out from under the grips of a group of villains who are pretty exclusively people of color…and if that’s not a loaded message, I don’t know what is.

For an opposing view, take a look at a column by Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, who argues that “Lucy is a staunchly feminist film that sometimes seems terrified of feminism.”  I’m not persuaded by his argument, which seems to rest on two points: (1) Lucy has to become less of a woman and less of a human to combat the evil forces and (2) her violence is directed against men.  But it is an interesting point of view.

Besson’s interest in archetypal feminist action heroes in the vein of Ripley from Aliens or many of his prior female leads gives way here to something slightly more complicated. Yes, Lucy gets to a place where she kicks ass and takes names, but there’s always something disquieting about it. For Lucy, to become a badass action hero requires largely getting rid of her humanity….Lucy is a film about smashing the patriarchy that also has some degree of ambivalence about what that might actually look like. After all, consider the figure that Lucy becomes: she kills or dismisses men without a second thought, she is in control of her sexual agency completely and implicitly, and she eventually evolves past men (and the rest of humanity) entirely. Then she deigns to leave humanity with a tiny gift that contains her vastly superior knowledge.

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Commentary Gender and Diversity This Week at the Box Office

Lucy

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

I always enjoy Luc Besson’s stylish car chases and shootouts. I like his use of locations, his strong female characters, and unexpected flashes of sentiment in the midst of mayhem.  While I found much to like in this story about a young woman who gains superpowers through a new drug, it was a mistake to have her show less emotion as she becomes physically and emotionally stronger.  Instead of sentiment, this time Besson inserts some preachy ruminations on the meaning of life.  I’m not opposed to existential ponderings in the middle of a crashes and explosions film.  But they need to be a little less silly and a lot less intrusive.

For a moment, I thought we were back on the Planet of the Apes or perhaps picking up some deleted scenes from “Tree of Life” as we returned to the dawn of time with the earliest hominids.  But no, this is just some sort of context for what is to come.  Our heroine, you see, shares a name with the skeleton of the oldest human remains, thought of as the first woman.

We then meet our present-day Lucy, standing on the sidewalk, arguing with her boyfriend of a week, who is trying to persuade her to deliver a briefcase for him.  She may not be very focused, but she is sharp enough to know that he and the deal he is proposing are both very sketchy.  But she is not smart enough to walk away before he can handcuff her to the case and shove her toward the door.  She has no choice.  She walks into the building.  The boyfriend gets shot.  And she is hustled upstairs but a lot of very scary-looking guys in black suits.

She is soon knocked out, and awakens to find that a pouch of a powerful new drug has been sewn into her abdomen.  She is one of four mules to be sent to cities across Europe to deliver the drug.  But before she leaves, a thug kicks her in the belly, the pouch opens, and the drug, a synthetic version of a chemical essential in fetal development, goes into her bloodstream and she is suddenly super-smart, super-powerful, and super-mad.  Also, she can time-travel, sweeping eras to the side like Tinder rejects.

Meanwhile, all of that brain power has not led her to the obvious conclusion that wiping out all of the bad guys who are in charge of distribution of the new drug is not going to solve very much if there are still people out there manufacturing it.

For a while it is fun to see her think, kick, punch, stab, and, yes, levitate the bad guys.  But there are too many returns to Morgan Freeman lecturing a group of students about what would happen if we used more than ten percent of our brains (by the way, that old myth has no more basis in reality than this movie does) and the decision to make Lucy increasingly robotic in demeanor as she gets more cerebrally enhanced lessens the narrative propulsion and emotional heft to the storyline. She also loses a lot of our sympathy when she engages in needless murders of innocent parties. I like Luc Besson. But I think he was using less than ten percent of his brain when he wrote this one.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive action-style violence with many characters injured and killed, lots of guns, knives, surgery, car chases and crashes, fights, threat of sexual assault with some grabbing, explicit scenes of animal and brief human sex and childbirth, sexual references, brief strong language, theme of drug dealing and effects of illegal drugs

Family discussion: If you could access more of your brain capacity, what would you use it for? Why did Lucy become less emotional as she got smarter?

If you like this, try: “The Transporter” and “Limitless”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy
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