February 13th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Democratic Progressive Party ousts Kuomintang

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce: enigma, loose cannon, deputy PM?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Temporary protection visa holders left exposed

ENVIRONMENT Bob Carter, RIP: mythbuster and fact finder extraordinaire

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Farewell, religious liberty, farewell, conscience

EDITORIAL Syria: U.S. backdown opens door to peace talks

ECONOMICS Bubble has burst on globalisation project

EUTHANASIA Media drives sales in the death market

CULTURE What does a good music review sound like?

CULTURE Can we put a rocket under religious Sci-fi?

CINEMA A melancholy heroism: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

BOOK REVIEW Partial but thorough

BOOK REVIEW Brutality of battle


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melancholy heroism: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, February 13, 2016

In Peanuts, Charles Monroe “Sparky” Schulz (1922-2000) crafted a compelling comedy of melancholy, a popular mythology that gave voice to the anxiety and insecurities of the generations growing up in the rapidly changing world after World War II.

Peanuts explored the conflict within the person, as each came face to face with an impersonal and uncaring world, and it did so through the medium of a newspaper comic strip starring children – and a particularly un-doglike dog.

Schulz had complete control over not just the strip, but also the vast merchandising empire that accompanied it. Schulz died in 2000, the night before his final comic was published, and now, 15 years later, his creation is on the big screen. Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is billed as “Coming from the imagination of Charles Schulz” and is as faithful a rendering as could be wished.

It helped that his son Craig and grandson Bryan, along with Steve Martino – the director of Horton Hears a Who! (2008) – were involved in its writing and production.

The film focuses on “that rounded-head kid” Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and his infatuation with the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Angelucci Capaldi) who has just moved in across the street. Charlie Brown tries to impress her, but is constantly let down by his own sense of inadequacy, and the bad fortune he is famous for.

He is supported throughout by his loyal, if extravagantly imaginative, beagle Snoopy. At the same time, Snoopy is writing a novel about his experiences as a World War I Flying Ace, seeking to rescue his beloved Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth) from the clutches of the dastardly Red Baron.

Throughout are the mainstays of the comics: psychiatry sessions with Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller), philosophical discussions with her blanket-toting little brother Linus (Alex Garfin), Sally’s (Mariel Sheets) misadventures, the Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder (Noah Johnston), tomboyish “Peppermint” Patty (Venus Omega Schultheis) and her assistant Marcie (Rebecca Bloom), the chronically filthy Pig-Pen (A.J. Teece), kite flying, attempts at ball games, dance contests and a book report on War and Peace.

The film renders the comic strip into a vibrant 3D computer-animation, without losing any of its elegance or simplicity. The soundtrack includes a few pop songs, such as Meghan Trainor’s cheery Better When I’m Dancing, that mesh surprisingly well with the Vince Guaraldi-inspired jazz score (Guaraldi scored the original animations). The voices of Snoopy and Woodstock are provided by archival recordings of Bill Melendez from the original animations, and the adults are once again voiced by the wah-wah of a trombone, this time played by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.

For the most part, The Peanuts Movie has been a hit with audiences and critics alike. However, reading the reviews brings to mind questions about the role of memory. By and large, the critics are comparing their recollections of the comic strip and the cartoons with the movie. But this is a fraught exercise, as our memories are fragile things, coloured as much by our attitudes as anything else. Similarities can be seen with other popular mythologies, like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond, where we tend to work from what we think they are about rather than what they are actually about.

This can be seen with Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown tends not to win. His endeavours, from kite-flying to baseball, tend to end with him losing. But this does not make him a “loser”, as some suggest. Despite his constant disappointments he does not give in to despair. He keeps going because he is convinced that he is doing what is right.

This is not to buy into some simplistic idea that persistence means eventual success, but the simpler idea that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for its own sake. For Charlie Brown, it is his dignity in the face of defeat that makes him a hero.

There is an affinity here with Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life. George has little in the way of worldly success. His life has not gone the way he planned, and yet he keeps going. He does what’s right because it’s right. Charlie Brown likewise. He may be a child, doing ordinary children’s things, but in so doing he stands in for everyone who is just trying to do the best they can. Charlie Brown’s great virtue is fortitude: he goes on despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He is a modern Everyman.

Peanuts resonates with viewers (and readers) for this very reason – that ordinary life is often difficult and disappointing, that sorrow and joy blend together as if to make a melancholy comedy, and that there is a heroism in just getting through each day.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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