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?”

“Yeah.”

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.

True Heroism

I saw this over on Facebook, and felt kind of sad:

I am definitely a hero to my son, arguably the most dedicated he’ll ever have. But he’s never really been the Jimmy Olsen to my Superman; he’s the J. Jonah Jameson to my Spider-Man. Some days I’m not sure I’ll ever see him show me the common courtesy he’d show a stranger, to say nothing of actual respect. But I’m not going to stop. And that’s heroic, even if he never recognizes it.

But then there’s the second part of the inscription, which is actually true and heartwarming. My daughter has mentioned wanting to marry me a couple of times in the past (though it’s been a while; she learned and accepted the impossibility just fine). She’s got a healthy love for both of her parents. Her faith in me inspires me to live up to it.

Dear Santa

We sat down with the kids yesterday and transcribed their letters to Santa.

Dear Santa, Hello. I am good. We live in Fayetteville, Georgia. I want to have Christmas. Can I have a blue magnifying glass? I want Peter Pan toys. I want a chimney for our toy house. Can I pet the reindeers? Do you like your cookies? Riley
Riley signed his own name.
Dear Santa, Hi! Can I have some Tinkerbell toys? A house! Can I have a magnifying glass? And my face is nice and smooth. Merry Christmas Santa! Lydia
Lydia held the pen while I guided her hand on the last sentence, her signature, and the tree drawing. Then she drew the tree decorations herself.

I figure the part about the face must be because she was thinking about Santa’s beard. She was completely serious about it, so I added it just as she said.

A Busy Saturday Morning

I brought Dwight (my accordion) to our Music Together class yesterday. I had worked up simple arrangements of three songs from the current songbook, and accompanied the class while they sang and danced. (I sang along where possible too, but was thinking too hard most of the time.) It was so much fun, I’m looking forward to doing it again sometime. I also want to bring the uke in at some point.

After class we went to Verizon Wireless to look at the new Droid, which Laura went ahead and bought. (I’m officially jealous. I love my Samsung Flipshot, but man is that thing sexy.) The kids entertained the sales guys by pretending to talk on the dummy model phones throughout the store. One of the guys went in back and got a couple of discontinued models, and gave them to the kids as toys. They were so proud. They’ve been making pretend phonecalls on them ever since.

Then, next door to Verizon is a Tae Kwon Do school, and they were celebrating their fourth anniversary with free food, demonstrations, a bounce house, and cake. The kids had a ball and wore themselves out. Riley was imitating the demonstrators, kicking and shouting an approximation of “hyah!” We got to thinking about how martial arts would teach a lot of the things that Riley needs most: confidence, discipline, focus. We spoke with the manager, and she was very supportive, saying they work with special needs kids all the time. She set Riley up with an instructor — a teenage boy who surprised us by being really good with Riley. We signed Riley up for classes. He seems excited about it, we’re hopeful he’ll participate well.

(Of course, as I typed this he was screaming his lungs out, in protest of being sent to “quiet time” for having screamed about having to wear non-preferred underwear because he wet his Spongebob ones. So we shall see. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so on.)