The Peanuts Movie

Why does this even work at all?

I doubt very much that it’s prescribable on the NHS but as one who is currently in a bit of agony from a knackered back, I can put forward the recent Peanuts Movie as a sovereign and effective distraction for a good eighty minutes. It is a pure delight.

Let me lay my cards on the table. I am a Peanuts fan from way back, one who collected all those little UK paperbacks, over 50 of them, who fell with glee upon a new one and laughed long and hard at Charles Schulz’s jokes and themes. I even watched a couple of the old cartoon films, at least one of which I saw in the cinema, despite the fact that the characters never ever looked quite right (which was only to be expected: Charlie Brown, Snoopy, et al were only ever designed to be two dimensional, and from certain angles only. They weren’t meant to move. Besides, the animators were Schulz himself and, like anything truly simple, there was only one hand that could draw them right.

But that was way back, the Seventies, and into the Eighties, though not very far. As I’ve observed, time and again, what enthralls, amuses, absorbs at one time does not always last your life long. Many once and former favourites have left my collection, and in time this happened to Peanuts.

And though I never turned against it, I stopped laughing for a time, and then I never saw enough of it again, never sought it out to determine if I could still laugh at it.

But I still wept when Schulz died, retiring with the one hand and then leaving us the day the last strip appeared, never actually seeing his creation of genius end, the final strip seeing print only hours after he went. Fifty years of comic genius, still a man of great humility according to too many people for them all to be lying, a success beyond all measure but still acquainted with humiliation, frustration, disappointment and cruelty, as Peanuts demonstrated until the very end.

The film? I’m sorry, but I loved it, even if the briefly happy ending was a betrayal of everything Charlie Brown stood for. I have no critical faculties when it comes to this film, I was just open to it from the very first moment. It felt right, it felt good, it felt silly and easy and comfortable and it was true to those kids who never grew up because they were already grown.

Unlike the old cartoons, this movie was made by computer animation, creating characters who truly did exist in three dimensions. It ought to have not worked, it should have been a complete failure, but that wasn’t so. Everybody looked the way they should look, down to the least pixel, an impossible translation made instantly convincing, and whoever thought of making eyes and mouth and expression chase across these rounded canvasses in two-dimensional cartoon-style was a genius of the first water, because it was unbelievably right.

Or maybe it’s just me, as the Distractions sang in ‘Time Goes By So Slow’, stuck inside a dream. I was away for a while, inside something that doesn’t exist, couldn’t possibly exist but which I still remembered so faithfully from when I used to spend a lot of time. Knackered backs cant compete with such things, the pain was not where I was.

Does anyone have any of those books I can still borrow? A fourth dimensional bookcase to which I can add the Fantagraphics’ Complete Peanuts in twenty five comprehensive Volumes? Please? Pretty please? With sugar on…

Mutts – a Touching Tribute

I don’t know how many of you are aware of the US daily cartoon strip, Mutts, written and drawn by Patrick McDonnell?
On the surface, it’s a simple cat and dog strip, centred upon Earl (a dog) and Mooch (a cat) living next door to each other: Earl with Ozzie, Mooch with Millie and Frank. The strip is animal oriented, with more animal supporting characters than human, and McDonnell is a passionate believer in animal welfare and environmentalism who uses his strip to advocate these themes.
Mutts has been around for the best part of twenty years. It had the great fortune to make its debut just as Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes was withdrawing: the two strips are radically different in style and theme, but Mutts was perfect for those readers who wanted a strip possessing a unique, offbeat humour, beautifully stylised minimalist art and an almost impossible amount of charm.
The first Mutts collection, gathering the first year of the strip, had a foreword by none other than Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, who praised McDonnell for Earl, calling him ‘an absolutely perfect little cartoon dog’. From the creator of Snoopy, those are high words.
I don’t know if Mutts is reprinted in the UK anywhere: I get my daily dose by e-mail, sent free from the Mutts website every day. This week’s strips have had a magical undertheme, in the run-up to Hallowe’en. Mooch, in his guise as the Great Proshpero, performs a magic trick, causing not just himself and Earl but the entire last panel on Tuesday to disappear!
The following day was a beautiful example of using the comic strip format: two entirely black panels, the third a balloon with the single word ‘Oops.’ On Thursday, the still invisible Earl asks Mooch to use his cat magic to bring them back: Mooch is happy to do so but asks ‘Can you see mu magic wand.’
So to today, which is Hallowe’en. For years, decades in fact, Charles Schulz would use this time of year to gentily satirise his own religion. Each Hallowe’en would find Linus van Pelt in the pumpkin patch, faithfully yet hopelessly waiting for the ‘Great Pumpkin’ to rise. And Mooch’s cat magic brings back one startled cat and dog in today’s final panel – in the pumpkin patch, with a perfectly Schulz Linus, still waiting all these years after Schulz passed on.
It was hilarious and touching: McDonnell is a daily treasure.