Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Peanuts Movie

“In the Heart of the Sea” and Harry Potter in “Victor Frankenstein” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

As a fairly regular reader of the Charles Schulz comic strip, I have long maintained that good ol’ Charlie Brown, the hero of “Peanuts,” is not the “blockhead” that his classmates think him to be. Sure, he does silly things and makes mistakes, but don’t we all? Additionally, a lot of what happens to him is out of his control. Take for example the classic “Lucy pulls away the football” scenario. Some would say he’s a blockhead for falling for it so much. To me, he’s an open-minded and trusting young man. His unfortunate flaw is giving people the benefit of the doubt and taking them at their word, even when they’re awful meanies who will laugh at his pain, like Lucy. One of the things I like about this new computer animated “Peanuts” movie is that Lucy the bully gets knocked around multiple times. It feels good. I have a feeling that writers Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano feel the same way about her that I do.

While the animation of “The Peanuts Movie” may be modern, the world of Charlie Brown is the same as it ever was—and this is good. It’s a world of phones with rotary dials, typewriters, bound books with paper pages, and kids who go outside to skate, play hockey, and fly kites on snow days. Perish the thought of ever modernizing Schulz’s children to be like modern day kids who would take out their smartphones, text, and play video games when given a snowy day off from school. I mean it. That technology has no place in the Peanuts world, and I hope it remains that way.

In addition to Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) and Lucy (voice of Hadley Belle Miller), all of the “Peanuts” favorites are back, including best friend Linus (voice of Alexander Garfin), sister Sally (voice of Mariel Sheets), and loyal canine companion Snoopy with his pal Woodstock (both voice of Bill Melendez). Plus no 
“Peanuts” story is complete without unseen adults who all sound like “Blah blah blah” when they talk. The “voice,” as it were, is provided by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who I must say also puts on a killer concert.

It’s classic comic mythos by now that Charlie Brown’s big crush is on his newest classmate, The Little Red-Haired Girl. The bulk of “The Peanuts Movie” is him doing what he can to impress her, and of course, getting foiled at every turn. Though I have to say to all the young ladies out there: If a guy reads Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and does a book report on it for the both of you all in one weekend, that’s some real love.

The most dazzling sequences, however, belong to Snoopy. Borrowing from more classic mythos, Snoopy writes a story and imagines himself fighting German World War I ace fighter pilot Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron. How Schulz came up with the idea of Snoopy gunning it out with the German war hero I don’t know, I’m just glad he did. The swooping, climbing, and diving of the planes as they engage each other in combat is exhilarating. Snoopy and the Red Baron perform loop the loops and barrel rolls and fly inverted to get the advantage on the other one and shoot him down. There are some genuine edge of your seat moments in these action sequences. It’s very well done and impressive.

“Peanuts” is classic, iconic Americana. It calls to mind a simpler time when it was fun to be a kid, and kids played with each other outside. For those who grew up reading and/or watching “Peanuts,” this movie is like spending some good quality time with very dear old friends—ones who haven’t aged a day. Buy it today on Amazon: The Peanuts Movie [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week:

In the Heart of the Sea

As the saying goes, “truth is stranger than fiction.” Truth also happens to often times be much darker and more horrible than anything put into fiction.

This is the thrust of the case being made by “In the Heart of the Sea,” in which a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) convinces the older Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last surviving member of doomed whaling ship Essex, to tell the story of what happened during a shipwreck years earlier.

Right away there is a narrative issue. This is probably only something a writer or critic would harp on, but still, it’s irksome: During the flashback story, young Tom (Tom Holland) is a fourteen year old boy going on his first whaling expedition. His job is to keep his mouth shut and do what he’s told, which involves a lot of swabbing the deck. The issue is that a lot of scenes take place where Tom isn’t present. The story revolves around the more than capable first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) and his contentious relationship with the greenhorn Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker). The two men have a lot of conversations in private. Some of the conversations involve second mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy). None of them involve Tom. It’s implausible to think that Tom was able to eavesdrop on all of the conversations, or that Chase filled him in on all the details later. It’s a minor quibble, sure, but from a writerly standpoint it would have made more sense to have an older Chase tell the story, since the flashbacks focus mostly on him.

Quibble aside, the story is impressive—and dark. This isn’t your grandfather’s version of “Moby Dick.” The elements are there—whales, obsession, vengeance, a lost limb on a captain—but “In the Heart of the Sea” has more in common with “Cast Away” and “Lifeboat” than it does with the Melville classic. Rather than a story about an obsessive captain who seeks vengeance on a whale, this movie is a story of survival at sea. The whale is the most vengeful character in the story. He acts like a guardian protecting his group of whales from the whalers. But he isn’t satisfied with merely chasing them away. He wants the whalers eradicated.

“In the Heart of the Sea” delves into some horrific territory as the story of the Essex crew’s survival unfolds. Director Ron Howard spares us what would assuredly be some unnecessarily graphic depictions of what the crew did to survive. That’s fine—just hearing about it is enough. The story is about a crew of men who ventured out too far and found that the “heart” of the sea, if there is one, is cold, brutal, and unforgiving. Their story of survival is just as harsh, but worth seeing. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Victor Frankenstein,” with the story this time told from the perspective of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), with James McAvoy as Frankenstein; “MacBeth,” with Michael Fassbender as the power-hungry, easily manipulated Scottish general; “Xanadu,” infamous musical misfire that helped inspire the creation of the Razzie Awards, starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and roller skates; “Howard the Duck,” disappointing adaptation of the Marvel comics character—very few movies go so far off the rails in the second half that it has to be seen to be believed, but I don’t recommend that; “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton light up the screen, and Parton sings her country hit “I Will Always Love You” a decade before Whitney Houston made it even more popular; and “Along Came Polly,” the movie that taught me about “sharting.”

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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