Good Ol’ Charlie Brown

I had heard that the Peanuts movie was cute, though not groundbreaking — faithful enough to the old TV specials that you wouldn’t really miss much skipping it and rewatching those. We went to see it with the kids, and I have to say, that assessment misses the mark.

Yes, it’s a fairly comfortable homage. There’s plenty of nostalgia, and even some verbatim quotes. And I have no idea how they found voice actors that sound so much like my memory of the shows. The casting is absolutely seamless.

But while the visual style remains steadfastly Schulz, the dogfight scenes and slapstick bits do expand the vocabulary of that style. It’s like a snowball made bigger, but it’s still snow throughout.

And then there’s the core message of the film. It didn’t really have to have one, it could have been a successful enough movie even just being a cute homage. But at a deeper level it’s about choosing whose opinion matters.

Charlie Brown is everyman, of course, with his insecurities and misfortunes. His identifiability is a big part of his appeal, and pretty pivotal for the whole strip. But toward the end of the movie, I began to realize that Charlie Brown’s biggest problem is just being way too concerned with what everyone thinks of him.

Then I noticed that we’ve been set up to spend the whole movie sympathizing with this. Even as he finally connects with the little red haired girl and she validates him, the message is that he needs this validation. I felt so disappointed to realize this in his moment of triumph. “Here he is, defining his happiness in terms of someone else. Again.”

But here’s what makes it okay: she’s the right person for him to listen to. She sees his strengths and values them, and they’re the things he needs to value in himself. His real problem is that he’s spent the whole movie listening to Lucy instead. That’s the core message. And it’s that message that elevates this movie beyond “cute cartoon for the grandparents to see with their little ones.”

On the way back to the car, Laura asked Lydia, “Who’s your favorite character?”

“The girl.”

“The little red haired girl?”


At first blush I was mildly disappointed, because that response seemed kinda spoon-fed to her. As I knew her from the comic strip, the little red haired girl can’t even be called a proper character; not only is she one-dimensional, but that single dimension is ineffability. But after a moment I remembered that her character is revealed at the end, and it really does reflect Lydia. And it’s in that moment that the movie transcends its inspiration.

More Rock, Less Talk

I’ve been teaching more piano lessons, and am on the cusp of earning some fraction of a living at it. This makes me so happy. I really do love spending my time that way. Folks have been very encouraging. I’m especially grateful to Laura for making it all possible—she even collected those endorsements and gave them to me for Christmas.

My songwriting has slowed a lot this year, but I’m inspired to light a fire under my muse. They Might Be Giants have revamped their Dial-A-Song service for the age of YouTube, and I’m just in awe of them all over again. My plan is to embrace Quantity (alongside Melody and Fidelity) as They’ve long espoused, and crank out more volume. I also think I need to take it all a bit less Seriously; I believe that’s been slowing me down, and it’s really just a diminished version of the same self-stifling that kept me from trying to write songs for most of my life.

What I Learned from The Dumb Book

Lydia’s been requesting fairy tales for her bedtime stories for quite some time now. One that we read tonight was called “The Dumb Book,” written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Andersen’s language has been much more dreamlike than the Grimms’, even when his subject matter is more down to earth, which is certainly the case here. “The Dumb Book” is really just about the death of a man that no one knew particularly well. The man had asked to be buried with his scrapbook of botanical samples. Each leaf or flower reminded him of an event or person from his life. Thumbing through it he would be overcome with emotion. But the reasons, the memories, were buried with him and the book. That’s all there is to it, just this snapshot of a lonely old man.

I tried to help Lydia understand the title and the story a little better. It’s pretty far off the mark of what she must have in mind when she asks for another fairy tale. “‘Dumb’ means ‘silent’ here,” I said, “it’s talking about how the book can’t really tell its story anymore now that the man is dead. He’s the only one who understood it.”

Of course from there my mind segued straight to this website, especially the older, more scrapbookish parts of it. Why do I do this thing? (Or not so much these days, evidently?)

“What a strange feeling it is–and we have doubtless all experienced it–that of turning over old letters of the days of our youth! a whole life seems to come up with them, with all its hopes and sorrows.”

I recently imported all my old entries from LiveJournal over here–half to establish a backup, half out of curiosity to see if it really would be as easy as the import tool suggested. Going through them all, I was once again reminded how valuable it is to connect with my past thoughts, and of how seldom I post anymore.

Now I’m thinking of Riley and photographs. The boy will do anything to avoid posing cooperatively for a photo. But he loves looking at old photos of himself, and maybe eventually that’ll be our way in: I point out that each of those photos only exists because I did take his picture at that moment, so could he please just not make a face for two seconds. (The jury’s still out.)

Update: Revisiting this post months later, I figured I’d just add to it. I’ve been churning up big changes on the whole site, while preparing to ramp up my web development career. Part of it is finding the right way to organize and separate the personal from the professional. But I’m finally able to justify spending some time and energy on it. I’m excited.

Nibiru demo

This is a test recording of a song that I wrote last year. The Nibiru Collision is a doomsday scenario in which an extrasolar planet crashes into the Earth. Nibiru is such a pretty name for the planet that it got me thinking, somebody must have been looking forward to it. So the song is kind of about star-crossed lovers, hoping against hope in the face of cataclysmic change.