Pigeon: Impossible

Spies in Disguise is the unceremonious final film from Blue Sky Animation. Despite already owning Pixar, Disney ended up obtaining the rights to Blue Sky with their 20th Century Fox acquisition. Only to shut the studio down a year later. My brother and I saw Spies in Disguise on Christmas blissfully unaware that it would be the last. Although it’s a strange way to end Blue Sky’s run, I’m glad I ended up enjoying their last movie. Spies in Disguise is surprisingly based on an ameteur computer animated short on YouTube called Pigeon: Impossible (watch the short here).

The movie is given high quality computer animation, but nothing fancy. The plot instead makes Agent Walter Beckett a super smart boy genius and turns the pesky pigeon into a spy in disguise. The always charismatic Will Smith essentially plays himself as the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Spy” Lance Sterling. He has a variety of gadgets, spy cars, and takes out the Yakuza with little effort. Since Tom Holland is literally everywhere, it was only a matter of time before he did animation. Walter works with Sterling at the agency H.T.U.V. hidden under the Washington Monument. The young scientist pushes for colorful non-lethal gadgets.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie until Walter transforms Sterling into a pigeon. The absurd situation is laugh out loud hilarious. Sterling blends in with a gang of comical pigeons and sticks with Walter until he gets his body back. All the while H.T.U.V. thinks he’s a traitor to the organization. Rashida Jones voices one of many semi-serious agents who hunts Sterling down. Ben Mendelsohn not so surprisingly voices the Bond-esque villain Killian who plans to conquer the world with era appropriate drones. Walter and pigeon Sterling end up bonding on their wacky spy adventure and learn to accept unique ways of solving their problems. Spies in Disguise flew in at just the right time.

14. Spies in Disguise

Agent Sterling (pigeon) and Walter (human)

Bull in a China Shop

Ferdinand is loaded with bull stuff. I never read it, but the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand is as old as 1936. Ferdinand is a lovable gentle giant who’d rather smell flowers under a cork tree than bullfight. It’s a simple story with a simple lesson, but people have read more into it over the years. My earliest exposure to Ferdinand was in The Blind Side, but I have since watched the 1938 Disney short Ferdinand the Bull. Blue Sky Animation finally decided to make a feature film after their failure with Ice Age: Collision Course.

My disillusion with the studio made me skip the movie in theaters; only for Ferdinand to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. The computer animation is simply pleasant to look at. He’s not Spanish, but John Cena is perfect for the flower loving bull considering his experience in arenas. The basic plot of Ferdinand having a peaceful life before a bee makes him look mad is kept intact. There’s just a lot of padding like a little girl named Nina who raises him like a dog. The celebrity cast of colorful characters similarly makes the movie longer with cartoony antics.

There’s a calming goat with Kate McKinnon’s occasionally annoying voice, a tough cattle of potential bulls, overly flamboyant horse bullies, and a trio of comic relief technicolor hedgehogs named Una, Dos, and Cuarto (we don’t not speak of Tres). Though the funniest gag is the classic “Bull in a china shop.” Ferdinand is also set in modern day with all the dated pop culture references and songs you’d expect. The book’s climactic bullfight against matador El Primero feels big without having to sacrifice its flower smelling conclusion. Though it does feel like a disposable kids movie, Ferdinand has a lot of heart.

13. Ferdinand

Ferdinand smells flowers under a cork tree

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

Mom Needs a Little Space

Mars Needs Moms is the biggest failure in Disney movie history. Nothing has ever bombed harder than this $150 million movie grossing a pathetic $39 million at the box-office. The record $111 million loss was enough to kill feature length motion capture animated movies for good. Although ImageMovers worked on everything from The Polar Express to Monster House to Beowulf, the Disney owned ImageMovers Digital only made A Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms before being shut down. Not that I’m complaining. Mo-cap can only work so well without the uncanny valley. Mars Needs Moms looked ugly the moment I saw it.

Character designs for the humans and martians are hideous, Mars is dark and colorless, and Earth isn’t much better. The Berkeley Breathed picture book of the same name is way more colorful and kid friendly looking. These martians have wide faces and curves that are difficult not to sexualize. Mars is ran by an oppressive all-female government that cast out males and leaves children to be taken care of by nannybots. A mom is only abducted to power a machine extracting her motherly escese or something convoluted like that. I’d care if the characters were a little more likeable.

Milo is a little brat who loves zombies and hates broccoli. Seth Green performs the motion capture, but his voice was understandably replaced by the similarly named Seth Dusky. Joan Cusack voices his mom without a defined personality. Dan Fogler voices a stranded human named Gribble who gets really annoying with his childish antics. Elisabeth Harnois voices rebellious martian Ki who loves Earth culture and speaks with cringy outdated slang. Mindy Sterling rounds out the cast as the revolting martian Supervisor. Mars Needs Moms gets really dark and emotional, but it’s not enough to make me care about such a dud.

Mars Needs Moms

Milo, Gribble, and Ki try to save the day

The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

Epic doesn’t quite live up to its title. In fact, it kind of faded into obscurity. I applaud Blue Sky Animation for taking risks, but it’s difficult not to compare Epic to similar environmental movies like FernGully or Avatar. Ice Age & Robots director Chris Wedge originally pitched the idea to Pixar before it returned to his founding company. Epic is very similar to the DreamWorks film Rise of the Guardians. Both are loosely based on William Joyce children’s books dedicated to his late daughter Mary Katherine. The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs was similarly given a super generic movie title. Epic could literally refer to anything. It tells the story of a miniature society of Leafmen who protect the forest from the blight infesting Boggans.

Although we’ve heard this kind of story dozens of times before, the computer animation is breathtaking. Everything from the tallest tree to the smallest insect feels realistic in this microscopic world. The animation is so good that it doesn’t really matter how basic most of the characters are. Amanda Seyfried voices M.K., the blank slate protagonist thrust into a fantastical world. Jason Sudeikis voices her kooky scientist father devoted to finding the leafmen. The Leafmen are your standard duty-bound soldiers. Josh Hutcherson is the hotshot rulebreaker Nod and Colin Farrell is his mostly serious mentor Ronin.

Aziz Ansari & Chris O’Dowd are the mostly funny comic relief slug & snail duo Mub & Grub. The Boggins are your average horde of mindless monsters. Christoph Waltz is the guy you call for an evil villain like Mandrake. Epic isn’t a musical, but there are at least three major singers in the cast. Pitbull is a gangster toad, Steven Tyler is an all-knowing glowworm, and Queen B Beyoncé is the literal Queen of the forest Tara. She also provided the song “Rise Up.” When M.K. is shrunk, she’s entrusted with a pod that will ensure the forest’s survival. If nothing else, the battles are epic and so is the world it takes place in. Epic is an admirable FernGully for the next generation.

9. Epic

M.K. protects the pod with Mub

Christmas: Impossible

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is more Christmas than Disney can handle. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas may have been direct-to-video, but Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is every bit the direct-to-video sequel sell out that most of them are. The primary difference is using computer animation on Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy for the first time in Disney history. Not counting Kingdom Hearts of course. The sequel has some similarities to the original, but segments are increased from 3 to 5 with pop up books in between.

Belles on Ice – The first segment focuses on both Minnie & Daisy. Mickey & Donald are only around for moral support. “Belles on Ice” gives the Disney ladies time to shine, but most of their time is spent fighting. They both get into a heated ice skating competition that includes the alligator and hippo dancers from Fantasia. Despite their pettiness taking up most of the story, they do come together in the end.

Christmas: Impossible – The second segment focuses on Huey, Dewey, and Louie. An ill-mannered Donald and polite Daisy aren’t nearly as important as Uncle Scrooge. “Christmas: Impossible” is about the mischievous boys mailing themselves to the North Pole where they hope to get on Santa’s nice list. Much like the first movie, this is my personal favorite story. The adventure in Santa’s workshop is fun, the elves are quirky, and Santa has plenty of heart. The message of thinking about others works its way through even if the boys had to mess up along the way.

Christmas Maximus – The third segment features Goofy, but focuses on his now grown up son Max. It’s nice to see Disney maintain some form of continuity between Max’s appearances. Even though I’m very much against Max being in love with anyone other than Roxanne from A Goofy Movie. “Christmas Maximus” is a mostly cliché story where Max is afraid Goofy will embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend Mona. It’s a mostly harmless series of antics that feels more like a music video set to the song “Make Me Look Good.”

Donald’s Gift – The fourth segment focuses on Donald. Ducks dominate the movie with Daisy, Huey, Dewey, and Louie making another appearance. “Donald’s Gift” has the most mixed message with Donald wanting to cozy up by the fire with hot chocolate, but constantly being annoyed with the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I’ll always be filled with Christmas spirit, but I do understand some people wanting to be left alone.

Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas – The fifth segment features Mickey, but focuses on his pal Pluto. The normally cheerful Mickey goes overboard with Christmas decorations and yells at Pluto when he makes a mess. “Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” is another cliché story where Pluto runs away from home, only to wind up in the North Pole. Donner and Blitzen are a comedic pair of reindeer who adopt Pluto until Santa has time to fulfill Mickey’s wish. Unlike the original movie, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Scrooge, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Goofy, and Max come together as part of the story.

In conclusion, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is something I watched just as much as the original when I was a kid. Though I don’t remember what VHS tape or DVD I saw it advertised on. The computer animation does feel unnecessary, but it’s really not that bad. Though there are more stories than there needs to be and most of them do go a little overboard, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas is innocent fun.

Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas

Mickey and friends sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Preceded by: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas