Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.
The Peanuts Movie is full of surprises. Especially for Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts characters are some of the most beloved cartoon characters in history. The Peanuts Movie brings them back into action in 2015. And in winning style.

It’s winter. While the kids are having fun skating and playing hockey on the ice, Charlie Brown is nervous. A family has moved into town and with them is a girl– the little Red Haired girl– he wants to win the attention of. However he has a track record of bad luck in the neighborhood and among his peers. He sees Lucy for ‘professional help.’ She advises him to make a winner of himself and be more confident.

First chance is at the school talent show. Charlie has a magic act planned with Snoopy and Woodstock assisting. Charlie’s last up. Sally is second -last up with her cowgirl act. However she gets ridiculed by the crowd. Charlie decides to help her win the contest at the expense of his own humiliation. It works. She wins and he makes a fool of himself.

Next chance is the school dance which consists of prizes going to the winning solo dances for both boys and girls. The little-red haired girl wins the female prize.  Charlie Brown appears to have winning form but a slip causes him to fall and disrupt the sprinkler system which disrupts the whole dance. Again a blockhead!

Next chance is a book report which he’s partnered with the little red-haired girl. Then comes aptitude testing which Charlie Brown is believed to score the highest. Just before Charlie Brown is to receive a medal for his perfect score, he learns the truth and declines his medal on stage. To make matters worse the book report Charlie Brown wrote for the little -red-haired girl is destroyed in the air by Snoopy’s plane.

Summer approaches and classmates are assigned to be pen pals. The little red-haired girl chooses Charlie Brown. The thing is she’s to spend the summer at camp. Charlie Brown has one last chance to meet up with her. Does he do it or doesn’t he? Those who saw the movie will know for sure.

What the filmmakers had in terms of bringing the Peanuts back to the big screen was a challenge. The first challenge was for possibly the first time, the Peanuts characters were 3D in a 3D world. The second challenge was what to include in the film. No doubt the film was to include the common traits of the characters as well as the common lines used by the characters throughout. The other challenge would be what kind of world would The Peanuts be in? Would they be in their past world consisting of common things like books, playing baseball and Snoopy using a typewriter? Or would they be in the modern world where kids use iPads, skateboard, hop onto Wikipedia for whatever info they want and save their essays as Word Documents?

I believe the writers and animators made the right choices to have the story situated in the traditional world of the Peanuts characters. That’s how fans of the cartoon series best remember them and converting them into the modern world would be very tricky stuff and may turn long-time fans off. Another element I liked is that it maintains a lot of familiar situations from Peanuts cartoon strips and Peanuts cartoon shows of the past. The humor of Charles Schulz had to be kept with the story as well as the familiar personality traits of all the characters.

However with this being a feature-length movie, it had to present a legible story with a beginning, middle and end. This was a challenge to write out such a story and mix in the common humor of the Peanuts characters and familiar moments of the Peanuts history. I feel it did an excellent job of creating a consistent story with mixing in the humor of the Peanuts franchise as well as giving all the other characters their moments too. It can’t all be about Charlie Brown. Plus I’m sure all of us wanted to see Charlie Brown win the ‘little red-haired girl.’

Kudos the Charles Schulz’ son Craig, grandson Bryan and Cornelius Uliano for writing an excellent story true to the Peanuts series as well as entertaining from start to finish. Additional kudos to director Steve Martino. To make such a movie work, they had to put it in the hands of someone who knows how to direct animation. Martino has proven himself in the past with Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age 2: Continental Drift. Here he delivers again. I also give the animators credit for making 3D characters of the peanuts characters for possibly the first time. That was another challenge: keep them 2D or make them 3D? They took the risk with 3D and it worked very well. I will admit I did see a few glitches in terms of speed but the form of the characters as well as the settings were flawless.

The vocal talent from the young actors were all there as they not only sounded like the characters but they personified them as we commonly knew them. Additional kudos for Christophe Back for providing the score familiar with Peanuts animation of the past as well as adding some things of his own.

The Peanuts Movie is an excellent movie with all the right moves to win over fans of Peanuts cartoons and introduce the Peanuts kids to a new generation of children.

Movie Review: Carol (2015)

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Rooney Mara (left) and Cate Blanchett (right) are lovers in a forbidden time in Todd Haynes’ Carol.

NOTE: I may have ‘published’ a previous version of this review. It was accidental as I meant to save instead of publish. Here’s the complete review.

There have been a lot of LGBTQ-themed films done in the past twenty years. Carol is the latest big film to be shown on the big screen. However it’s not your typical gay-themed film.

The film begins in a scene set in the future. Then flashes back to Therese, a young 20-something woman working the toy section of a Manhattan department store. A glamorous older woman, Carol Aird, consults her for what to buy her daughter for Christmas. Therese recommends the train set and she buys one. However Carol left her gloves behind in which Therese mails to her from the address on the sales slip.

Both women have difficult lives. Therese is in a relationship with a man and longs to be a photographer. Carol is in a marriage near divorce and in the midst of a tight custody battle with her daughter. However Carol is able to get Therese to meet up for lunch. The friendship starts to grow and Therese is able to take pictures of Carol for her photography habit. On Thanksgiving, Carol invites Therese over to her house but it does not go well with her husband Harge as he knows Carol had a relationship with a woman named Abby last year.

Carol visits Therese on Christmas and gives her a state-of-the art Canon camera. Carol also reveals to Therese the details of her divorce and how Harge plans on having a ‘morality clause’ against her in an attempt to win their daughter Rindy in a custody battle. Carol plans an escape for the two of them around New Year’s Day in a remote Iowa town to get away from the difficulties of their lives and to finally have time for the two of them together. It works on cultivating their relationship but it’s interrupted as it is learned an investigator was hired by her husband to track her lesbian relation. Therese is driven by Abby back to New York.

In the meantime Carol is in a difficult situation as she is to decide whether to love Therese or give it all up for the sake of winning custody of her daughter. Months pass and Therese is now working as a photographer with the New York Times and Carol is seeking psychotherapy for the sake of winning custody of Rindy. Carol attempts to reconnect with Therese at a lunch at The Ritz but is interrupted by a former co-worker of Therese’s. The film ends with the moment many believe was meant to be.

The thing about Carol is that it’s not only about love but about the times too. Cate Blanchett even describes the story as ‘like Romeo and Juliet, only Juliet and Juliet.’ Todd Haynes is a gay director himself and he has delivered films with gay-themed subjects. Here he presents a love story situated back in 1953. The story reminds us of the times of how GLBTQ people were limited in terms of rights if they even had any at all. We shouldn’t forget that homosexual acts were criminalized until the 1970’s and the homosexual attraction was considered a form of mental illness up to 1973. Knowing that would make one understand the situation Carol would have to face: to choose between custody of her daughter or pursue who she loves. Nowadays the courts would be more favoring towards the GLBTQ person but back then homosexuals always lost such a custody battle.

The film isn’t completely about presenting a gay scenario from back in the past. The film is as much about the two main characters Carol and Therese. Carol is of the more upper class but is longing to break free of her loveless marriage to pursue her heart’s desires and live the life she was meant to. Therese is a young 20-something looking for something better but finds it with Carol. It’s as the two find love through each other that they know there are better lives for them. However it’s not to be without obstacles like a boyfriend questioning, a suspicious husband and a judgmental society.

The film is actually based on a novel from Patricia Highsmith entitled The Price of Salt. I’ve never read the novel but I get a good understanding of it from seeing the film. Interestingly is that after reading over Highsmith’s biography, one could sense the film is about some of Highsmith’s own experiences. She herself was a lesbian who had relations with women during that very time set in the film. She even went under psychoanalysis while in her 20’s to marry a man but it didn’t work. Those were the times back then.

The film is excellently written out by Phyllis Nagy and directed very well by Todd Haynes. The only other two films from Haynes I ever saw was 2002’s Far From Heaven which also dealt with homosexuality in the 1950’s and I’m Not There which is something else. Remembering Far From Heaven has me convinced Haynes was the right choice to direct. Phyllis Nagy may only have one other script to her credit–HBO’s Mrs. Harris— but she does an excellent job in writing the story. The slow pace of the story succeeds in getting you to feel the characters and the situation. There have even been a few times I’ve thought that with this movie being released in 2015, the year the US Supreme Court legitimizes same-sex marriages in all 50 states, this film is a reminder of what they had to go through in order to achieve it.

The film also excels because of the acting. Cate Blanchett shines as Carol who possesses a shining confidence but struggles in a world that won’t accept people like her. Rooney Mara is also excellent as the young naive Therese who’s confused about herself but finds herself over time. Despite the two owning the film, there were other good supporting performances from the like of Kyle Chandler as the suspicious Harge and Sarah Paulson as Abby. The set design and costuming did an excellent job of taking the film back to the past. The cinematography added to it as well as the score from Carter Burwell which captures the intensity of the situation.

Carol is a story about a woman of her time who dared to be different and love even if it meant losing it all. It not only does a good job of telling the story but also the time of the story too.