Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Olaf’s Biplane

Yesterday evening, after attending the Maryland Renaissance Festival, I found something I knew immediately I had to have — The Peanuts Movie: Olaf's Biplane construction set from Lite Brix.

Lite Brix is a LEGO-compatible building block made by Cra-Z-Art, a New Jersey company.  To tie in with The Peanuts Movie, they produced a number of products, including several LEGO-compatible construction sets.  I don't know what kind of distribution they had, as I never saw them in stores, an all too common state of affairs with off-brand LEGO.

I chanced across Olaf's Biplane (as well as Lemonade Stand) at a clearance store.  I liked The Peanuts Movie a lot, and I wanted to see what the sets were like.  Maybe I need to check out other clearance stores to see if I can get the whole line-up, especially since BanBao, another manufacturer of off-brand LEGO, is releasing their own Peanuts off-brand LEGO construction sets next year.

The box is eye-catching.  Olaf's Biplane is a 90-piece set — 77 bricks, 1 LED battery pack brick, 9 "special shaped parts," and a 3-piece Olaf minifigure.  The set requires 3 AAA batteries, hence the pack of batteries and the Philips-head screwdriver.

Continue reading “Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Olaf’s Biplane”

A Baseball Mystery Solved

Thanks to a podcast, I found the answer to a random question I had wondered about — what baseball league do the Lake Wobegon Whippets belong to?

I didn’t know, and it occurred to me one day that the Lake Wobegon Whippets could — and perhaps should — play in the Green Grass League against Stumptown and Hillsdale. The Whippets, of course, are the creation of Garrison Keillor and featured occasionally in his “New from Lake Wobegon” monologues on A Prairie Home Companion, while Stumptown featured prominently in the legend of Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown’s favorite baseball player from Peanuts. I even wrote an unconventional (and short) piece of fan fiction about Lake Wobegon and Stumptown, baseball rivals.

But they’re not.

Recently I subscribed to the News from Lake Wobegon podcast, a weekly download of archived “News from Lake Wobegon” segments. Curious if my goofy idea about the Whippets and Stumptown would work, I went through the archives and found a half-dozen podcasts where the Whippets were mentioned.

Stumptown (and, by extension, the Green Grass League) belongs to the affiliated minors; poor Joe Shlabotnik was sent down to Stumptown after batting .004 in the majors.

Lake Wobegon plays in the Old Sod Shanty League against teams in Avon (the Bards) and Freeport (the Flyers) and Holdingford (the Bulls) and Uppsala (the Uftas). The Old Sod Shanty League, as best I can determine, is some sort of amateur adult rec league, “town teams” in the classic baseball sense, with rosters made up of residents of the town.

A team of amateurs in Lake Wobegon will never play the professionals in the low minors in Stumptown.

A dream, dashed! A mystery, solved!

Last Night in Stumptown

A clipping from the Stumptown Progressive…

The hometown crowd witnessed something they had never before seen — the umpires examining a baseball for scuff marks and paint — when the Lake Wobegon Whippets took on rival Stumptown at Olaf Field Friday night.

The drama came in the top of the seventh inning when Whippets second baseman Jonny Gilmore faced Stumptown pitcher Frank Bayliss.  Trailing by two runs, with a runner on first and no outs, Gilmore showed bunt, then ducked down in the batter’s box when Bayliss’ throw went awry.  The sound of the ball smacking against something was heard by the entire crowd of 346, and the home plate umpire promptly ruled Gilmore hit by pitch and awarded him first base.

Stumptown’s catcher tossed the ball back to the pitcher and, before play could resume, the home plate umpire summoned the first base umpire to the pitcher’s mound.  The two umpires asked for the baseball and proceeded to examine the ball.  Conferring for several minutes and finding no scuff marks from Gilmore’s helmet on the ball, the home plate umpire reversed his initial call and declared the pitch a foul ball having struck off of Gilmore’ bat rather than his helmet.  Art Ramsey returned to first base, Gilmore returned to the batter’s box, and both runners were erased when Gilmore hit a ground ball to short and Stumptown’s infielders turned a double play.

“In my sixty years of watching baseball,” said fan Jordan McKeever after this inning, “I’ve never seen umpires examine a baseball like that and make a decision based on that.”  This reporter would note that he has known McKeever since elementary school, and McKeever has only watched baseball for forty years, not being old enough to have watched it for sixty.

Stumptown took its 4-2 lead into the ninth inning, when Stumptown closer Erik Warner coughed up four runs, giving Lake Wobegon a 6-4 lead.  Stumptown went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, extending Stumptown’s losing streak to 8 games, leaving them 12 games under .500 and in last place in the Green Grass League’s Northern Division.

Stumptown manager Joe Shlabotnik , asked after the game why he stayed with his closer after Warner loaded the bases on two walks and a hit by pitch with no outs, said, “Warner made himself a mess, and I wanted to show faith in my player that he could get himself out of it, but he didn’t, and that’s the way baseball goes, and we’ll get ’em tomorrow.” Warner now has seven blown saves on the year, including three from a critical series against Hillsdale last week.

Stumptown’s series against the Lake Wobegon Whippets continues Saturday night at Olaf Field with the first pitch scheduled for 7:10.

Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April. Spring is officially here. Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team. Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League. Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League. When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based? Where was Stumptown? I have no idea. Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown. It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few. Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.” But Lake Wobegon? They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights. It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor is a Minnesotan. The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent. That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

Reporting to the Head Beagle on 2016

I received an urgent request to fill out an annual report to the Head Beagle. I think this urgent request may have come to me by accident — unlike Snoopy I am not a beagle — but in the spirit of the New Year, herewith is my 2016 response to the annual survey.

1. How many rabbits have you chased?
I chased no rabbits in 2016. I was content to let the rabbits frolic outside of my apartment. Some mornings I would even sit outside and drink my coffee as they frolicked in the spring. No rabbits.

2. How many cats have you chased?
I chased no cats. I’ve not seen a cat in a while, honestly. No cats.

3. How many owls did you howl at?
No owls. I’ve not seen an owl this year. I’ve seen lots of squirrels! There was a squirrel making a mating call just a few hours ago while I was throwing out recyclables. But a squirrel is not an owl. No owls.

4. Did you take part in any fox hunts?
No fox hunts. I’ve never been on a fox hunt. I’ll never participate in a fox hunt. No foxes.

5. Relationships with humans…
a. How did you treat your master?

If you mean my bosses at work, we’ve gotten along fine.

b. Were you friendly to neighborhood children?
Yes, I’ve treated the neighbors’ children nicely.

c. Did you bite anyone?
No, because that’s gross and mean.

I think I would not make a particularly good beagle.

An Angel Tree Package for the Office

As the company has done for a number of years, a Christmas tree was put up in the lobby and, a few days after Thanksgiving, Angel Tree stockings were hung.

I had decided long ago to participate in the Angel Tree program this year and, when I was passing by the lobby area on other business and saw they were up, I stopped and spent a few minutes deciding upon which one to pick.

I chose, similarly to last year, a boy, eight years-old. I signed my name to a sign-up sheet on the front desk, and, with a spring in my step, back to work I went.

There wasn’t any guidance with the stockings as there were with the Angel Tree tags a few years ago. Those tags indicated ideas for toys and clothing sizes. I had to operate blindly, but I was fine with that. You see, I already had a half-dozen items at home for my Angel Tree recipient. I wouldn’t say I had a plan for the recipient, per se, but I knew this was something I wanted to do, and since I knew it was something I wanted to do I saw no reason not to start buying items. And if there had been guidance, the recipient was still going to receive the things I had bought.

I didn’t have a budget. Instead, I was going to buy strategically. Like last year, I was going to do a box of stuff. If I was out at a store and I saw something that intrigued me, I would buy it. In October, then, I started buying items here and there, so by the time the stockings were hung on the tree I had a box of stuff ready to wrap.

That was my strategy, then, and when I was done the recipient would receive a wrapped box, he would unwrap it to find the box was filled with more wrapped boxes, and he would then unwrap another half-dozen interesting things. An eight year-old, receiving an Angel Tree package from the Salvation Army, probably wouldn’t be looking at the brightest Christmas. Every little bit helps.

With the Angel Tree gifts due at the office on Monday morning, Wednesday night after work I sat down and started wrapping. I gathered up the wrapping paper out of my coat closet — most of it Peanuts related — and found my Scotch tape. plugged in my Christmas tree, and queued up Christmas-themed episodes of The Thistle & Shamrock to really get the festive spirit going. Time to go to work. :)

This is a complete overview of the items I had on hand:

For those who wonder about these things, the part of my living room bookshelf you can see holds part of my Beatles library. (There are more Beatles books in my bedroom. And my dining room. I have Beatles books everywhere.) From the left, there’s Philip Norman’s Shout!, then Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life, and next to it is Bob Spitz’s biography of the Beatles. Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is on that shelf, as is Ray Coleman’s Lennon. The missing book (seven spots over from the left) is Ian McDonald’s Revolution in the Head Third Edition as that’s presently in my bedroom; I was rereading the entries on “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” recently due to the 15th-anniversary of George Harrison’s death.

Let’s take a look at the items individually, and I will muse upon them as I go.

First up, a Rey puzzle based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Rey puzzle

I also had a Finn puzzle. The Rey and Finn puzzles were actually the last two items I bought for the package.

Finn puzzle

One of the first items I bought was an Australian collection of Peanuts comic strips. I found this at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and it was all of two dollars. “This is nice,” I thought, and I thought it would make a good Angel Tree gift.

Peanuts collection

Also found at Ollie’s, but not on the same trip, nor the same Ollie’s, was this Matchbox-esque car! They had all of these baseball die-cast cars, and I couldn’t find any for any team I liked. If I wanted the Phildelphia Phillies or the Texas Rangers or the Miami Marlins or the Houston Astros, they had plenty of those. Cubs or Nationals? Heaven forfend! But they also had this 2012 World Series car. “Why not?” I said. “Kids love Matchbox cars.” And yes, I’m well aware that this one is by Lionel, not Matchbox. :)

World Series Lionel car

Next up, a coloring book! I picked this up on the same Ollie’s trip where I picked up the Peanuts collection.

Justice League coloring book

Coloring books require crayons! This was one of the last items I bought. I picked these up at the 5 Below across the street from Diamond’s offices.


While I was at 5 Below, I also picked up this Spider-Man action figure. Kids love Spider-Man, and kids love action figures. :)

Spider-Man action figure

A DVD! This is the Babar movie from a few years ago. (Come to think of it, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a live-action Babar movie along the lines of the recent Paddington Bear.) When I was young, I loved Babar, so this was an easy choice. I think it was three dollars at Big Lots.

Babar movie

Kids need stuff to build with, and I was intrigued by this Mega Bloks set. This also came from Ollie’s, and it was the most expensive item in the box (at seven dollars). I got this at the same time as the World Series Lionel die-cast car.

Mega Bloks Jeep

And we need a book!

Also from the Ollie’s trip where I get the Mega Bloks set, I found a book on baseball for young readers — Michelle Green’s A Strong Right Arm, a biography of Negro League pitcher Mamie Johnson, a woman who played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s. I read it after I bought it — it’s not very long and it’s written for young readers — and I quite enjoyed it. The book talks about growing up in the segregated South in the 1940s, discovering one’s talents, and pursuing one’s dreams. Though I don’t know who is receiving the book, I saw important messages in the book for everyone.

A Strong Right Arm

And with that, my wrapping was done!

Oh, I still had the Sega All-Stars die-cast of Tails, but I had no idea how to wrap that due to the shape of the package and, as I would soon discover, I wouldn’t have had room for it in the box.

Pile of presents

Then I selected a Christmas card out of my collection and began to pen a letter from Santa Claus.

This is something I’ve done with the two Angel Tree packages I’ve done. I was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, and the first two I did were quite elaborate. They weren’t illustrated like Tolkien’s — I’m a shite artist — but I spent time talking about what life was like for Santa Claus.

For this card I wrote about how the elves were loading the toys in the sleigh, how the gnomes were making the final pre-flight checks, and how Mrs. Claus was shoving Santa out the door. Christmas, after all, is the one time of year he gets him out of the house. :)

The card written, I filled the Diamond shipping box, used a little bit of filler paper, taped it up, and wrapped.

Wrapped box

Again, for people who care about such things, the bookshelf to the right is my graphic novels bookshelf. It’s largely alphabetical, and you can see my Hellboy and Invisibles collection at the top (there’s a Batman shelf above it), Lucifer and The Maxx on the next shelf, and my Sandman boxed set below that. On the bookshelf to the left, there are Doctor Who books visible at the top (with a shelf of Sherlock Holmes books above that), Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (in their Dark Horse editions) and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books (in their Del Rey trade paperback editions of a few years ago) on the shelf below that, and Fantagraphics’ Peanuts Every Sunday collections and my Harry Potter collection, with a selection of Panini’s Doctor Who collections in between.

I didn’t keep track of what I spent, but it was right around thirty dollars.

I killed one roll of wrapping paper. I had bought a new roll just in case — Peanuts, unsurprisngly — then never used it. The roll of Scotch tape was much diminished when I was finished. And I limited myself to a single bottle of Highland Brewing‘s Oatmeal Porter as I wrapped.

Satisfied with my work, I sat on my couch and listened to Archie Fisher talk about Christmas in Glasgow on The Thistle & Shamrock.

Thursday morning I took the package into the office and dropped it off with Human Resources. I had done my duty, I had brightened a stranger’s Christmas (or would, two weeks hence), and I could get on with the business of sending my publications to press.

Publishing. It is merciless with its deadlines. :)

Link Round-Up: December 22

I was stupidly busy today with work, so I have little idea what’s happening in the world. Nonetheless, some things that caught my attention today…

There was a Facebook post as well that discussed an article in The Atlantic. I’ll post that as well, once I’ve had a chance to sit down and read what I wrote this morning. The coffee hadn’t quite kicked in.

Thoughts About Endings

This morning I was working on text for the UK edition of January’s catalog. (The UK has a special version of PREVIEWS with more pages and UK-specific items.) And I worked on the text for Canongate’s edition of The Complete Peanuts Volume 25: 1999-2000.

The final volume.

A wave of emotion washed over me that I wasn’t expecting at all. This is it, the end. A journey that began back in 2004 is nearing its end. I knew it would be soon — just last week, the twenty-fourth volume, covering 1997 and 1998, with Rerun on the cover, came out — but I’m not ready for this to end. Not yet.

The truth is, the ending of Peanuts has always carried emotional freight with me, and not simply because Peanuts was always a part of my life. The way the strip ended and the circumstances around its ending — Charles Schulz dying as the final strip went to press, as though with his life’s work done there was nothing left for him to do — touched me deeply, and even now I find some of the strips of the final few years difficult to read.

What follows is an e-mail I wrote the evening of February 13, 2000, the day the final Peanuts strip ran. I look at it now with some embarrassment; I conflated Royanne Hobbs and Peggy Jean in my mind, and I was sure then (and am sure now) that Charlie Brown really did kick that football in the late 1999 strip where Rerun held the ball.

I thought nothing of my necktie choice this morning. The news was impossible to avoid; Charles Schulz had passed away. As I was dressing for work, then, there was no real choice; it would be a Snoopy tie. The only choice, then, was which Snoopy tie it would be — the Valentine’s Day tie, an obvious choice given Monday’s holiday? The Snoopy baseball tie, in light of the impending start of spring training? Any of two dozen other Peanuts ties in my collection?

The choice came down to Starry Night. The tie is as the Van Gogh painting of the same name, Woodstock and his relatives alight in the night, Snoopy sleeping atop his doghouse in the foreground, the heavens above painted in the dark, heavy manner as Van Gogh had done. And written on the backside of the tie, the caption: “Goodnight, Vincent.”

Goodnight, in more ways than one. Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Linus Van Pelt and Rerun and Pepperment Patty and all the rest, gone to another place. And Peanuts, the last Sunday strip, the last original strip ever, running today in the newspapers. Charlie Brown would be no more. Snoopy would never again fight in the trenches of Flanders, joust with the Red Baron in the skies, dream of writing the Great American Novel. Lucy could never dispense her useless psychobabble to another unwary listener, pull away the football from the luckless Charlie Brown yet one more time.

Revisiting the past, revisiting one’s youth, is never a wise action. But I will always revisit the past of Charlie Brown and his friends, as long as the old strips are reprinted in whatever their form. Revisit the storylines that I read as a child with the understanding of an adult. Stories such as Charlie Brown’s first girlfriend (Roy Hobbs’ great-granddaughter, no less), Rerun starting Kindergarten, Charlie Brown’s first baseball victory, the time he finally kicked the football that Lucy had always pulled away.

Childhood ends, but in the world of Peanuts, childhood will never end, so long as we empathize and understand.

That’s the place where the profound sadness I felt as I copyedited and formatted Canongate’s suggested text came from. Oh, there is the new Peanuts Movie, which I thought was splendid. And the comic books from BOOM!, which I’ve in the main enjoyed. But the original thing, the thing itself, its great reprinting project will draw to a close in a few months, and I will again face the ending of Peanuts and all the sadness therein.

And, as for the day’s news, I have nothing to say about it but this:

The Peanuts Movie

Last night after work I went to see The Peanuts Movie, the new CGI animated film based on Charles Schulz’s characters. I had tracked this movie pretty carefully over the last year and a half, from the first trailer to the second, and last month I even read the kids novelization.

The Peanuts Movie is the second Peanuts film I’ve seen in the theater; I have vague memories of seeing Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown with my dad, my brother, and maybe my sister when we lived in Chicago in the late 70s. This movie, I had the option of seeing it in 3-D, and I opted for the 2-D showing.

The film was preceded by an Ice Age short. I’ve never seen any of the Ice Age films, so I’m not familiar with the characters. One of the characters finds his way into a UFO that’s been buried in the ice, accidentally takes off into space, promptly blows up several planets by accident (which rains debris down on the Earth, presumably causing an extinction event), and probably ends up suffocating in space. Let’s just say it didn’t go over well. I didn’t find it funny and, judging by the utter silence of the theater, no one in my audience did, either.

As for The Peanuts Movie, that had a better audience reaction. The story, as I’ve described it in the past from the trailers and the novelization, is basically the secret origin of Charlie Brown’s crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl. Charlie Brown had a rough day — the Kite-Eating Tree has destroyed his latest kite, and Charlie Brown’s attempt to fly the kite wrecked his friends’ hockey game — and, feeling particularly low, Charlie Brown sees that someone new is moving into the neighborhood. He thinks this is a good chance for a fresh start with a possible new friend, someone who doesn’t know him as a wishy-washy loser, and what follows is a series of comic misadventures where Charlie Brown tries to talk to or impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, only to have it blow up in his face in embarrassing and public ways.

In the side plot, Snoopy discovers an old typewriter and decides to become the Great American Writer For his magnum opus, inspired in part by Charlie Brown’s pratfalls where the Little Red-Haired Girl is concerned, he embarks on a novel about the World War I Flying Ace and his love of the French poodle aviatrix, Fifi. But a danger lurks in the skies — the Red Baron! — and the World War I Flying Ace will face many dangers when he attempts to rescue Fifi from a German aerodrome and its mighty Zeppelin.

The Peanuts Movie did pretty much everything right, I thought. The story has a nice momentum and pace; scenes don’t drag on and linger past their punchlines. There were issues I had with the story from the kid’s novelization — the film’s characters weren’t in the same grade in the comic strip, let alone attend the same school; and the ending didn’t feel appropriately Schulzian — but, in the context of the film, they worked. If you want to show all of the familiar Peanuts characters, putting them in the same classroom is an easy way of accomplishing that. If Charlie Brown’s goal throughout the film has been to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl, a goal he has consistently failed at, then he’s probably going to talk to her at the end. The ending, no matter how very un-Schulz-ian it was, worked for me and left me with a dopey grin, feeling upbeat.

The film is, as previous paragraphs suggest, Charlie Brown and Snoopy-centric, and maybe the film could have done more with the Peanuts ensemble, but most all of the major Peanuts characters at least had a moment. Linus has moments with his blanket and moments where he’s the Wise Old Sage, Lucy dispenses advice and berates Charlie Brown at every opportunity, Peppermint Patty has flirty moments with “Chuck, you old sly dog,” and imposes on him for baked goods, Schroeder has his toy piano and his Beethoven bust, and so on. Basically, the ensemble gets moments or dialogue that will be callbacks from familiar moments from the major holiday animated specials (A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). Reading the kids novelization in advance didn’t spoil the movie for me in any appreciable way. Some elements of the film weren’t present in the novelization, such as part of Snoopy’s plot which relied on visual gags that wouldn’t translate well to the printed page.

The CGI animation worked very well. The art models captured the look and style of Schulz’s later (1980s-ish) artwork in the 3-D CGI style, and the film looked like the comic strip come to life. It seemed to me that even the framing of the shots was set up to mimic the perspectives that Schulz would have used in the comic strip. Also, for a long-time fan, there are some nice visual puns; at the dance, for instance, there are kids doing the strange dance moves from A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Speaking of A Charlie Brown Christmas, 5, one of the dancers, is in the film — he’s in Charlie Brown’s class — but his sisters 3 and 4 don’t seem to be.)

The film has two mid-credits scenes — one a gag that wouldn’t have fit anywhere else, one with Snoopy’s family. After the credits (where are a lovely homage to the history of Peanuts), there is a post-credits sting. You honestly don’t need to stay for it; it closes off a recurring gag, that’s all.

There was one thing I really wanted from the film, and I didn’t realize I wanted it until after the film was finished:

To be fair, though, Schulz wasn’t a fan of The Royal Guardsmen Snoopy songs, the most famous of which is “Snoopy’s Christmas.” But I thought it would have been nice to hear a modern band take a crack at it. As for the film’s music, it’s a combination of Vince Guaraldi’s originals (the film opens with “Skating,” for instance), modern renditions by David Benoit, and a lovely orchestral score by composer Christophe Beck. There are two pop songs — Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin'” and Flo Rida’s “That’s What I Like,” and they were pretty inoffensive. No signs of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”

All in all, I liked The Peanuts Movie. It was funny and it was touching and it was nice. For me, it was filled with nostalgia moments, but those moments didn’t overwhelm the film’s story. The film manages to be reverential without ever becoming inaccessible. Think of those nostalgic moments as Easter Eggs to the audience, reminders that this film may look different and feel modern, but its heart is absolutely in the right place. And, for the young audience who doesn’t really know Peanuts that well, I think they will really like this. Charlie Brown is like all of us — he tries hard, he cares, he falls short, he doesn’t see himself in the positive light that others see him, and he doesn’t give up. That’s a good message to take away from The Peanuts Movie.

If I were to rank this among the first four Peanuts films, I’d put this second, after Snoopy Come Home and above A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

I hope they make another, though The Hollywood Reporter says it’s not likely. (The article also answers what happened to the follow-up animated special to Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, focused on Snoopy and the Red Baron; this film started from that animated specials script.) If the Schulz estate changes their minds, if they do make another Peanuts film, maybe next time, something with more of an ensemble flavor? Maybe something about Charlie Brown and his baseball team? That would be a lot of fun. :)

The Peanuts Movie Novelization

Yesterday evening I went to the BAM! (formerly Books a Million) near York Galleria, not for any particular reason, just to get away from the gloom and the muck that had been all day Saturday thanks to the rain brought by Hurricane Joaquin.

thepeanutsmovie-novelizationThere I found a most unexpected book — The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization, adapted by childrens book author Tracey West. (The double “Movie” in the title is not a typo on my part; that’s what it reads on the cover and the spine.)

I’m not going to critique the book, per se; I’m well beyond the age of the book’s intended audience, and any critique would be bringing a fortysomething’s perspective on and expectations of fiction to a work that doesn’t deserve that type of scrutiny. I did feel something… strange about reading this book and engaging with the Peanuts characters through prose, but that’s my conditioning and expectations born of nearly four decades of reading these characters in comic strips or watching them on television. When I was in second or fourth grade (I skipped third), this would have been my speed. (Or maybe not. I was reading Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by fourth grade, and I’d already been to Narnia and Middle-Earth.) And the book should really be looked at in that way. It’s a book for kids. :)

The important thing to say about The Peanuts Movie novelization is that it’s entertaining and the book is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. West takes us inside the psyches of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and she makes us feel for good ol’ Charlie Brown. The prose isn’t complicated, the characters behave exactly as they should, and the sense of melancholy that pervades Peanuts is present. For the elementary school reader who knows Charlie Brown and the gang from the animated specials, The Peanuts Movie Movie Novelization would be a lovely introduction to the characters.

That out of the way, I want to take some time and discuss the story, which isn’t West’s purview; she worked with the script she was given. What follows will be spoilers, and I’ll leave some suitable space for those who wish to stop reading…





Back in June, FOX released a trailer for the film that gave some hints about the film’s story. Let me quote from the blog post I wrote about it:

My read on the trailer is that this is an origin story of sorts — the origin of Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl. A new girl moves into Charlie Brown’s neighborhood, she’s seen a few times in shadows or at a distance in the trailer, no matter what he does Charlie Brown can’t work up the nerve to talk to her, she has red hair. Seems straightforward to me.

Also, there were some things in the trailer that struck me as not quite right:

Shermy’s presence alongside Peppermint Patty and Franklin is ahistorical (Shermy disappeared from Charles Schulz’s strip about the same time they were introduced). We also see that Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin apparently attend Charlie Brown’s school (they didn’t — they were from the other side of town and attended a different school), and Linus appears to be in the same class as Charlie Brown (he wasn’t — he was a year or two behind Charlie Brown).

thepeanutsmovie-profileThese suppositions, which were all reinforced by the newest trailer, are absolutely accurate.

The story has an A-plot/B-plot structure, like the best (and worst) of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the A-plot, Charlie Brown has a crush on his new neighbor across the street, the Little Red-Haired Girl. In the B-plot, Snoopy finds a typewriter and starts writing the Great American Novel, a war story about the World War I Flying Ace and his love of the French poodle aviatrix, Fifi. The story isn’t just “the origin of Charlie Brown’s unrequited crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl”; it’s also the origin of Snoopy as the Great American Novelist. These plots reinforce one another, but they don’t tie together.

And yes, there’s a strange, ahistorical mix of Peanuts characters in the film. Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin, who attend a school on the other side of town, are part of Charlie Brown’s class, along with Linus and Shermy, and their teacher is Miss Othmar.

I understand the creative decision that led to something like that — it’s easier to put all of the characters in the same school and the same classroom because it affords more opportunities to use the characters and have them interact.

But I can’t understand why Shermy was used at all. He is, at best, pure fan-service because he doesn’t do a single thing in the story. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t have it out for Shermy, but he ceased being a major character a decade before I was born, and his peak moment was probably “I’m always a shepherd” in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Unless there’s a reason outside this story for his appearance — such as, “Shermy was secretly Charles Schulz’s favorite character and he always regretted not doing more with him” — he could have been dispensed with entirely.

As for the tone, the story gets it right… until the ending. Throughout, Charlie Brown is faced with a problem — how to work up the courage to have a conversation with the Little Red-Haired Girl — and he comes close to surmounting the challenge, only to fail (in his mind) in an embarassing and public way, time and again, and he’s reminded of that fact by his erstwhile friends. That’s classic Peanuts. But the ending owes more to rom-com cliches than Peanuts, and the reaction by the characters to the ending is not Peanuts at all. Unless, thirty seconds after the end it all blows up in Charlie Brown’s face, that is.

For a new audience, I think the film will work. They’re not going to be nitpicky about how it doesn’t “fit.” They’re going to see a story about overcoming life’s obstacles and learning from the process starring a group of characters that they’re probably a little familiar with. The story does work on its own terms.

For a long-time Peanuts fan of comics and animation like myself, it will probably be best to think of this as a reboot, like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, albeit a reboot without decompression and lens flare. I fully expect to be entertained by the film. As I said, the story does work. It’s not entirely true to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, but as the film spools and the story unfolds I don’t think I’ll notice. I’ll just enjoy the 90 minutes with Charlie Brown and the gang.