Rated G. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 1; Language 0; Sex /Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
I am a laughingstock to my friends…
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
If Peanuts were a human being living in America, he would have been eligible this fall for a Social Security card at full payment. Charles Schultz’s first episode of Peanuts appeared in newspapers across the country on October 2, 1950. Like many of you I grew up imbibing the strip and, when I began my ministry, regarded it as a gold mine for sermon illustrations when preaching about sin, guilt, grace, and love.
Thus I was a little worried some months back when 20th Century Fox announced that they would be releasing a new Peanuts movie, given the terrible way that Universal Pictures mutilated Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Had I known that the cartoonist’s son and grandson Bryan and Craig Schultz were part of director Steve Martino’s writing team, I would not have worried.
Even before the story began I fully embraced the production the moment I heard piano strains accompanying the usual 20th Fox icon’s orchestral music. Sure enough, as the camera pans away from the studio logo we see Schroeder playing his pint-sized baby grand.
There are two intertwined quests in the film—that of the overly shy Charlie Brown’s to speak to the Little Red-Headed Girl who has moved in across the street and joined his class at school; and Snoopy as the World War 1 ace seeking to free the female pilot Fifi who has won his heart just before being shot down by the Red Baron and taken prisoner by the Germans.
As in all of the newspaper strips our pint-sized Job continues to suffer the scorn of his friends and other indignities—his battle with the kite-eating tree; his reception of Lucy’s 5 cents bad advice and her sharp insults; and, of course, her withdrawal of the football before he can kick it, though this incident is not part of the story but is worked in while the end credits are rolling. (By the way, for real fans it is worth sticking around for these credits because along with many one frame excerpts from the cartoon strip there is a very brief scene at the very end.)
Charlie Brown is such a loser that even his little sister Sally says, “Can a brother and a sister get a divorce?” At another point Charlie gazes up at the night sky and philosophies, ”Whenever I feel really alone, I just sit and stare into the night sky. I’ve always thought that one of those stars was “my” star, and at moments like this, I know that “my” star will always be there for me. Like a comfortable voice saying, ‘Don’t give up, kid.’” The star then literally falls from the sky. And there’s when, after several times retreating from the doorbell of the Red-Headed Girl’s house because of failure of nerve, Charlie faces her, he blurts out, “Hi, I’m Brown Charlie! I mean, Barney Clown!”
Interspersed among scenes of Charlie trying to make himself noticeable to the girl he has set his heart on are imagination-fueled snippets of Snoopy, atop his dog house transformed by his fertile mind into his bi-winged Sopwith Camel doing battle with the Red Baron’s tri-winged Fokker DR. 1 as the canine pilot sets out to rescue his own heart throb.
As in the earlier Peanuts’ movies, adults are largely absent, except for the occasional presence in the classroom of teacher Ms. Othmar. Her undecipherable dialogue is expressed through the instrument of jazz player “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, thus sharply dividing the enclosed world of the Peanuts gang from that of the adults who intervene in their lives far less frequently than those of the current generation. Also pleasing is the use of generous portions of Vince Guaraldi’s score that added greatly to our enjoyment of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Good grief! This December will mark the 50th anniversary of this classic!)
I loved the large role that my favorite canine enjoys, though I missed the great sequence from the strip in which he dances joyfully despite Lucy’s strident attempts to discourage him. (This was the sequence in which in another article I called him a canine Zorba the Greek.) Snoopy does show up at the kids’ school dance as “Joe Cool,” exhibiting such skill that Peppermint Patty exclaims, “Whoa! Check out the moves on that funny-looking kid with a big nose!” There is also a strip-induced scene in which Lucy criticizes Snoopy’s novel about a WW 1 ace, “A dog that flies? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read!” At first he throws his typewriter at her, but when she walks over to beat him up, he responds surprisingly with a kiss on the nose. (See Ecclesiastes 25:21-22) And it is great to see that not only does he find a love interest in the new character Fifi, a poodle aviator with pink fluffs of hair, but also scores at last over the Red Baron, even as Charlie Brown by his various acts of kindness, courage and truth-telling, leaves the loser’s and joins the winner’s circle—at least for a while, this being a Charlie Brown tale.
This latter occurrence is something new that makes The Peanuts Movie a welcome addition to the series of canonical Gospel According to Peanuts films. (By the way, this would be a good time to take out and dust off Robert Short’s wonderful book of the same name—if you preachers haven’t quoted Charles Schultz for a long time because of lack of timeliness, with this film now showing everywhere, it is the time! And Mr. Short has gathered in his book the most theological of the episodes.) Charlie Brown might be a little round-headed Job who, like the Biblical patriarch, says at one point, “The whole world seems to be conspiring against me. I’m just asking for a little help for once in my life.” But at the film’s climax when he asks the Little Red-Headed Girl why she chose him as her dance partner when no one else would, the apostle Paul’s words about “the fruits of the spirit” popped up in my mind. The girl’s answer, based on what she has seen him do during the course of the film, is so moving that even Lucy, described in the strip (by her brother, I think) as “the Crab Grass of Life,” is induced to shed a tear. Lucy utters words that I never thought we would hear from her, “You’ve really shown something new to me, you blockhead! [but her tome is nice for once] You’re always full of surprises. Good ol’ Charlie Brown.” Everyone cheers, together lifting Charlie Brown up into the air. The scene turns into a black and white drawing. Then appearing in its usual place at the bottom right is Charles Schultz’s familiar signature. I am certain he would have approved of this new version of his timeless series, as I believe you will too.
Note: Quotations are from IMDb’s “The Charlie Brown Movie” at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452042/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu where you will find many more included.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Dec. VP.