Good Grief

The Peanuts Movie is a love letter to the beloved franchise. Apart from the original Ice Age, The Peanuts Movie would easily be my favorite movie from Blue Sky Animation. Similar to the equally faithful Horton Hears a Who!, The Peanuts Movie managed to stay faithful to the original comic strips by Charles M. Schulz. It helps that his son and grandson personally developed the movie not long after he passed away. It’s refreshing to see a classic franchise adaptation that doesn’t throw in pop culture references, modern technology, or any unwanted new characters. The Peanuts Movie is rated G, because it doesn’t feel the need to degrad the source material with crude jokes or potty humor. While they couldn’t help but make it computer animated, Schulz’s hand drawn style is maintained in a clever way. My brother and I saw the movie in theaters with a big smile on our faces. Although they haven’t watched most Blue Sky movies, our parents were just as pleased to watch it.

The Peanuts Movie is pure nostalgia with a simple story that touches on almost every aspect of Peanuts history. Most of the movie takes place during wintertime in order to pay homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown tries to be a winner, but faces all of his biggest insecurities. Trying to fly a kite and failing at baseball happen early on, but attempting to kick a football is saved for a mid-credits scene. His biggest struggle is trying to get the Little Red-Haired Girl to notice him. It’s a sweet love story that finally gets her to speak and show her face. Fortunately the unseen adults are back to speaking through a trombone. The entire Peanuts gang has time to shine and show off their defining traits. Noah Schnapp captures Charlie Brown 1 year before making a name for himself on Stranger Things. Linus carries his blanket and always has something insightful to say. Lucy continues to put Charlie Brown down and give him unhelpful advice from her psychiatry stand.

Sally spends most of her time wanting to be a cowgirl. Peppermint Patty is the lazy tomboy she always is and Marcie is not too far behind as her smarter sidekick. Schroeder’s piano playing is given special treatment as part of the 20th Century Fox theme. Pig-Pen causes a mess wherever he goes and Franklin has a lot of screen time since he’s the only diverse character. Violet and Patty are also around in a supporting role. Equal attention is given to frequent scene stealer Snoopy and his buddy Woodstock. They have an entire subplot devoted to Snoopy writing about the World War I Flying Ace and his enemy the Red Baron. Snoopy’s love interest Fifi and his entire family are all part of it. The Peanuts Movie weaves together many classic storylines like a talent show, dance, or book report. Although Charlie Brown believes he’s a blockhead, it’s always heartwarming to see his friends root for him when he wins. Blue Sky is the only studio I know that can take a wonderful idea like The Peanuts Movie and turn it into a success.

11. The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts celebrate Charlie Brown

You Blockhead!

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) took the titular blockhead halfway round the world. Like Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, I’ve seen the movie advertised many times on my Rugrats VHS tapes. It was the final Peanuts movie released in Charles M. Schulz’s lifetime. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) is a personal story partly based on the creator’s life experience in France. Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie travel to England and France for a foreign exchange program.

Charlie Brown deals with questions of who sent him a letter, Linus looks out for him, Peppermint Patty is overconfident as usual, and Marcie speaks enough French to get by. Meanwhile, Snoopy and Woodstock enjoy the finer parts of the country. Including a brief stay at Wimbledon. The animation is more cinematic and atmospheric than anything else in the franchise. The movies did evolve overtime, but the 80’s were a weird time for the Peanuts.

Even though adults are supposed to be unseen and unheard, several adults are both seen and heard. It wasn’t the first time, but it does make me a little uncomfortable. Peppermint Patty and Marcie stay with a friendly French boy, but Charlie Brown and Linus end up at an unfriendly Baron’s manor. I was at least happy to see Charlie Brown kissed by another little red-haired girl. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) is a suitable conclusion.

4. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!)

Snoopy drives the Peanuts

Preceded by: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

We’re Supposed to Be Having a Race

Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is your basic camping movie. Even the Peanuts can’t get too insightful with a set up like this. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and its creator Charles M. Schulz are clearly just trying to have fun. I’ve known about the movie for a long time thanks to an add for Paramount home video that I constantly saw on my Rugrats VHS tapes. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown feels even bigger than Snoopy Come Home with vast wilderness settings.

The Peanuts stay at Camp Remote where they’re paired off into groups of four boys and four girls. The boys consist of Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, and Franklin. The girls consist of Sally, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie. Snoopy and Woodstock are mostly around to do cool things like riding a motorcycle to the camp. They do all the usual camp activities, but the primary focus is on an extended river rafting race. Plus dealing with camp bullies who constantly cheat.

Along with all his usual struggles, Charlie Brown mostly deals with having to be a leader. Peppermint Patty begins making decisions with her sidekick Marcie and the rest of the girls through the democratic process of voting. It gets old after awhile. The race itself goes on a little too long, but Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is still a satisfying adventure.

3. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

The Peanuts on the river rapids

Preceded by: Snoopy Come Home & Followed by: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!)

No Dogs Allowed

Snoopy Come Home gave the spotlight to Charlie Brown’s beloved pet beagle. Snoopy is every bit the icon that his owner is. Peanuts fans love his smart yet mischievous nature and independent spirit. Since A Boy Named Charlie Brown was such a success, Snoopy Come Home soon followed. This time Charles M. Schulz wanted a more cinematic feel. The first movie admittedly felt like an extended special. While the animation is still simple, backgrounds feel more immersive.

Another change was music from the Sherman Brothers instead of the usual Vince Guaraldi. Most songs feel a bit more Disneyfied than usual. Although it takes further advantage of the medium, Snoopy Come Home was sadly a box-office bomb. The story is very sentimental with Snoopy leaving home to visit his sick former owner Lila. Charlie Brown blames himself for his dog running away. Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty all have shared mishaps that make them doubt if he’ll ever return.

Joining Snoopy for the first time on-screen is his faithful bird sidekick Woodstock. Together they endure the elements, a pet crazed kid, and near constant “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Snoopy nearly chooses to stay with Lila, but let’s just say a problem becomes the solution. Even though Snoopy’s tearful farewell is played for laughs, Charlie Brown almost saying goodbye to his best friend is very relatable. Snoopy Come Home is the best kind of “boy and his dog” story.

2. Snoopy, Come Home

Snoopy and Woodstock hitchhike

Preceded by: A Boy Named Charlie Brown & Followed by: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

B–E–A–G–E–L

A Boy Named Charlie Brown brought Peanuts to the big screen. I have always been a huge fan of the Peanuts franchise. They’re simple, but smart stories for the young and young at heart. I can think of nothing better to review on the 5 year anniversary of my blog. The great Charles M. Schulz first created Charlie Brown for a 1950 comic strip series. The Peanuts popularity soon grew to TV specials like the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I’d say it was only a matter of time before they made a major motion picture, but Charlie Brown really is so down to Earth. A Boy Named Charlie Brown manages to feel big without losing its simple charm. Everyone knows Charlie Brown as the boy who just can’t seem to win. He can’t fly a kite properly, he can’t play baseball without losing his clothes, and everyone treats him like a blockhead. All the classic characters and moments are there.

Snoopy dreams he’s a World War I flying ace, Lucy doesn’t let Charlie Brown hit the football, Linus obsesses over his blanket, Sally crushes on Linus, and Schroeder plays his piano. A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a musical with many abstract animated sequences accompanying them. The main conflict for Charlie Brown is a spelling bee that finally gives him self-confidence. Of course he blows it on the word beagle (“Good grief”). Like so many great Peanuts stories, A Boy Named Charlie Brown offers an important lesson about believing in yourself.

1. A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown hopes to fly his kite

Followed by: Snoopy Come Home

I’m Still Standing!

Rocketman soars as high as a kite. Since Elton John is one of the greatest living musicians, it was only a matter of time before someone gave him a biopic. Turns out the singer had been wanting a movie based on his life story since the 2000’s. The timing couldn’t have been better for it to happen in 2019. Dexter Fletcher directed Rocketman a year after his uncredited work on Bohemian Rhapsody. Both musical biopics center around gay singers who dealt with a lot of personal struggles. Music manager John Reid also plays a part in both stories. Even more ironic is the fact that Taron Egerton was practically born to play Elton John. Though singers and/or actors like Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were considered, Egerton had a lot of bizarre connections to the singer.

Egerton already sang “I’m Still Standing” in Sing and John himself had a featured role in The Golden Circle. He also happened to work with Fletcher before on Eddie the Eagle. Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn encouraged the casting by becoming a co-producer. Edgerton pulls off the bespectacled look and every flamboyant outfit. Although I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters, I chose not to do the same with Rocketman. Though I am a big fan of John’s songs, the R rating spoke for itself. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman doesn’t hold back on the singer’s homosexuality or various addictions. The film explores his younger days as a piano prodigy and the strained relationship with his parents that led to him changing his name from Reginald Dwight to Elton John.

Bryce Dallas Howard is practically unrecognizable as his mother. As his star rises, John forms his longest lasting platonic relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell. His troubled love life includes abusive manager Reid played by Richard Madden, but his relationships with women are significantly downplayed. Rocketman is more of a fantasy with purposeful historic inaccuracies and stylish musical numbers for all his songs. Every performance is fun to watch, but Elton’s rehab visits and struggle to love himself are the heart of his life’s story. Which is why “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” won Best Original Song. And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til anything tops Rocketman.

Rocketman

Elton John dressed up

Una Poca de Gracia

La Bamba brings music to life. Ritchie Valens was one of the most promising young singers who ever lived. His tragic death at 17 on “The Day the Music Died” left a lasting impact on the music industry. Though I never knew too much about his personal life. I only knew that my parents were big fans of the movie La Bamba. Lou Diamond Phillips shines as the Mexican American Richard Valenzuela. The film covers his entire rags to riches story as he moves to California with his family. Ritchie has big dreams to one day become a successful musician.

La Bamba does an excellent job balancing his career with the relationships he forms along the way. His mother is very supportive, but his troubled half-brother Bob is always in his shadow. Esai Morales steals many scenes with his alcoholism, drug abuse, mistreatment of girlfriend Rosie, and failed dream to become a cartoonist. Ritchie’s relationship with high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig inspires his hit song “Donna.” Together they deal with her racist father, but the late 50’s are surprisingly kind to their romance.

Joe Pantoliano is Ritchie Valens’ manager who gives him his stage name and makes him a star. Though I recognize songs like “Come On, Let’s Go” and “Donna,” “La Bamba” will always be his biggest hit. Los Lobos perform Valens’ songs per the families request. Of course I knew the fateful flight with Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” was coming since Ritchie is haunted by recurring nightmares of a plane crash. The music may have died February 3, 1959, but La Bamba made sure Ritchie Valens’ legacy would live on.

La Bamba

Ritchie Valens performs on American Bandstand

Le Mans ’66

Ford v Ferrari is the last 20th Century Fox film nominated for Best Picture. It couldn’t have happened to a more old fashioned movie. In fact, Fox always wanted to bring the racing rivalry between Ford and Ferrari to life. At one point they wanted Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but Matt Damon and Christian Bale are suitable replacements. After Logan, director James Mangold shifted gears back to the biographical dramas he used to make with acclaimed films like Walk the Line.

I’m still not an automotive expert, but even I know the idea of a Ford beating Ferrari in a race sounds like a pipe dream. Ford v Ferrari is all about Ford being challenged to build a racecar with enough speed to outrace Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Damon is the determined automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Bale appropriately portrays his hotheaded frenemy Ken Miles. Shelby is close with Miles’ family and does everything he can to push the racer.

Even when everyone else is trying to get him out of the driver seat. They deal with the heads of Ford played by Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts. They also deal with a lot of scientific mechanics in order to get the Ford GT40 to crazy speeds. Racing scenes are so fast and smooth that you feel like you’re right there. No wonder Ford v Ferrari won technical awards like Best Film Editing and Sound Editing. Though the outcome isn’t fair, the thrill of the race is more than enough. Ford v Ferrari is an honest-to-goodness sports drama about the American dream.

Ford v Ferrari

Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles on a Ford

Formula 1

Rush is a 2 hour long adrenaline rush. I’m not a racing expert, but I stand by my philosophy that a good movie can make anything interesting. Though I’ll admit I primarily watched Rush because I assumed it would be a top Oscar contender. You have Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, the biographical angle, and strong reviews from critics. Yet Rush wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. Just 2 Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Supporting Actor.

I’ll further admit that Chris Hemsworth was another major draw for me. It doesn’t help that he looks exactly like Thor without a beard. I guess he was kind of typecast with long hair for awhile. Rush explores the Hunt-Lauda sports rivalry of the 1970’s. James Hunt is a British Formula 1 racer who drives a McLaren. Niki Lauda is an Austrian Formula 1 racer who drives a Ferrari. Though the film doesn’t stray away from their mutual admiration for one another, a heated rivalry makes better conflict. Chris Hemsworth gives his all to a more dramatic performance and Daniel Brühl made his presence known.

Imagine Thor racing against Baron Zemo. Both racers are driven to outclass each other and they couldn’t be more different. Hunt is a partying playboy who indulges in drugs and sex (including a very naked confrontation with Natalie Dormer). Lauda is more levelheaded, though he does make a mistake that leads to severe burns. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara have a front row seat as their respective wives. Howard makes every race dramatic with fast cuts, slow motion, and moody lighting. Rush is an underrated slice of racing history.

Rush

James Hunt and Niki Lauda

Sing a Better Song

Educating Rita closely examines the importance of education. I never heard of Educating Rita, but my uncle regularly advised me to watch it. Turns out I ended up being quite invested in the film actually. In many respects, Educating Rita takes cues from the renowned stage play Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady as it’s known to those in musical theater). Dr. Frank Bryant is an alcoholic Open University professor who tutors a cocky young hairdresser who calls herself Rita.

Frank fills the role of Henry Higgins and Rita fills the role of Eliza Doolittle. Both characters play off each other so well that I wasn’t surprised to learn the film was based on a two actor stage play. Both leads were nominated for best acting Oscars. Since I’ve yet to see Michael Caine’s early work, it was refreshing to see him in a serious lead role. Educating Rita has moments of humor, but it’s the young Julie Walters who lightens up the stuffy university.

I could hardly believe this was her very first film. I’m so used to seeing her as Molly Weasley. Rita’s willingness to learn is a delight to watch. Frank feeds her classic literature and poetry until he begins to rediscover his own love of teaching. Of course their respective personal troubles put a damper on things. Rita’s education leads to her divorce and Frank falls into an alcoholic downward spiral when his marriage fails. Only together do they find a way to improve themselves. Educating Rita taught me a valuable lesson.

Educating Rita

Rita sits with Dr. Frank Bryant