December Issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 4 years ago

The Peanuts comic strip, at least for the first 20 years of its nearly half-a-century run, was deceptive in its simplicity.  Buried beneath the pratfalls and fantasy sequences and the talking dog was a deep vein of philosophical melancholy, drawn from creator Charles Schulz’s own lifelong depression. The very first Peanuts strip has two children sitting on a sidewalk. In the first three panels they refer to “good ole Charlie Brown.” The punchline, as it were, comes in the final panel when one of the kids exclaims, “How I hate him!”

It is to the credit of The Peanuts Movie, filmed on a script written by one of Schulz’s sons, that it doesn’t smooth the rough Charlie Brown edges too much. He is still constantly bullied, his best intentions never translate into a positive outcome, and he finds it impossible to get the girl. The stench of failure hovers over him. His vocabulary may be more limited than it is in the comics and he may not be as perennially unlucky as we would expect, but he is still recognisably Charlie Brown.

The Peanuts Movie does not have a plotline so much as a series of interconnected vignettes. The themes will be familiar not just to readers of the comics, but anyone who has ever suffered the cruelty of school. The fear of rejection at the school dance, hoping the person you have a crush on notices you just once,  the constant bullying — all of these are dealt with a deft, gentle touch — and the humour is warm rather than cruel.

Snoopy, the lovable beagle, co-headlines with Charlie Brown as the star of the movie. His refusal to act as anything other than human is a consistent source of laughter. Snoopy the fantasist, who imagines himself a hero in a parallel life, was so overused in the latter half of the comic’s run that it became tedious. The movie suffers from the same problem, with Snoopy’s fantasies of fighting against the Red Baron in the Second World War taking up too much screen time, but even these sequences are saved by the quality of the animation.

The understandable focus on Charlie Brown and Snoopy means the other characters get short shrift. The original Peanuts has a superb supporting cast, with Linus and Lucy among the more memorable figures in comics’ history. Linus exists in the movie only to serve as the only source of comfort in Charlie Brown’s life, even though he has his own neuroses that go unexplored. It is also regrettable that the movie did not follow the comic’s lead and keep the little red-haired girl — the object of Charlie Brown’s forever unrequited love — off screen. Showing her removes the aura that had built up around her.

Given that this is a movie which needs to draw in a mass audience, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that it provides an ending happier than anything Schulz would have countenanced. But it still maintains the same sense of hope and wonder that Schulz used, to make sure his cynicism was never too bitter.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.