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.

Watching “Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann” (1982)

Timerider movie poster
Time travel makes even motorcycle movies more awesome.

Time travel is an opiate of mine. And so it came to pass that I watched a movie called Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann on Netflix streaming. It was made in 1982, and the movie itself is a bit of a time machine. Powered by cheese.

I learned from the opening credits that it was co-written and scored by Michael Nezmith. Cool, I thought, I wonder if I’ll see any influence from The Monkees. Then: OW, MY FRAMERATE. This opening motorcycle action sequence was shot in seizure-vision. Wait, now he’s off the bike, why is it still strobing at me??!? Was it just a problem with the video stream? It went on this way for almost the entire movie. Somewhere near the end I noticed it had been fixed, but I didn’t notice when it happened.

There’s some good acting going on behind all the dated production. The opening scenes are a slow start by today’s standards—lots of motorcycle footage, peppered with a bit of cheesy dialogue characterizing the protagonist—but stick with it, it gets much better. The score includes some fun synth rock and also acoustic Western stuff that’s proven more timeless.

Temporal prime directive! Spoilers follow.

I really enjoyed the way that the time travel wasn’t obvious, how he spent most of the movie not knowing it had happened, choosing simpler explanations instead. This freed the story a bit, kept it from getting bogged down with explanations. And it was refreshing to see a protagonist that didn’t feel the need to cower at the threat of causality paradoxes.

Near the end I got a little less forgiving of plot holes. “Here we are on horseback, chasing people. Looks like they’re having some trouble, and will now be pulling the motorcycle with a horse. Let’s all dismount so we can slow down.”

I don’t know if I was supposed to feel clever for seeing the necklace thing coming, but it was really like being hit over the head with a neon road sign. And then of course I have to spend some time in the mindblow quagmire of WHO MADE THE NECKLACE? And then eventually it will be so worn down as to fall apart. Then they’ll have to re-make it, or replace it. That must happen between 1875 and 1982. And if it does, does that mean it has to break and be replaced every time it passes through the loop? Et cetera.

Bottom line: Fun flick, even if you find some of the production deserves the MST3K treatment. Also got me thinking how it might be different if it were rebooted today.