Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Peanuts Movie: The Classic Modern Charlie Brown

First off, if you have never read a Peanuts comic strip, I hope that what I have attached above has educated you on the awesomeness that is Charles Schulz's work.  When the news first came out that a CGI-animated Peanuts movie was coming out, I had hardly dared to hope that it would have the same style, humor, and heart that I was used to--both from the comics and from the 2D animated movies.  Thankfully, I did dare.  My nostalgia was more than sufficiently fed with familiar tropes such as Lucy's psychiatric help stand, Snoopy's imagined battle with the Red Baron, and Charlie Brown's struggle with, well, pretty much everything.  As a bonus, there are flashes of the original comic style whenever the characters have a thought bubble and whenever exaggerated 2D lines create the character's expressions.  At the same time, the movie does not entirely follow its predecessors and truly came into its own.  Mild spoilers ahead.

One of my favorite parts involved Charlie Brown's relationship with his dog Snoopy.  Snoopy serves as an encouraging wingman for his owner as he tries to woo the Little Red-Haired Girl, whose face we actually see despite my expectations.  Snoopy's interactions with Charlie Brown are always so sweet, which in the comic strip has not really been the case, and every time I saw them together on screen, I wanted to run over to them and have a group hug.  When he's not helping out Charlie Brown, Snoopy pretends he is in a wild adventure that involves rescuing his true love from the infamous Red Baron.  This leads to several hilarious moments, such as when you remember that instead of inching across a broken bridge over a high drop, he's just hanging from a few Christmas lights in front of Peppermint Patty's house.

Meanwhile, as if I hadn't found Charlie Brown endearing enough already, the movie presents several moments where he chooses to do the right thing rather than take his chance to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl.  When he makes a fool of himself to rescue his sister Sally from embarrassment in the talent show, sacrificing his own magic act, I literally had the "awww" sound on loop in my head for pretty much the rest of the movie.  Of course I don't want to give away all of his moments of glory, but know that he is a precious cinnamon roll and deserves about ten billion kisses.  I really like how Charlie Brown, at his root, is simply a good kid.  It gives me hope for humanity, even if he is just a cartoon.

The movie does not entirely follow the comic strip, but describing that in detail might be going too far into spoiler territory for some of you.  You were warned.  Basically, at its end we see Charlie Brown actually gaining a few victories, which Schulz never wanted to have happen while he was alive.  His reasoning, as I understand it, was that Charlie Brown is supposed to be a character that keeps hoping even though things never go his way.  All the same, I can't help but find it satisfying as well as surprising for the character to at least have a few of his wishes fulfilled.  I don't think it takes away from the spirit of hope Schulz was going for, and with a movie as funny, adorable, and heartening as this one, I would not be surprised to see a Peanuts 2 movie coming in the near future.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

57 Chevy

Before “57 Chevy,” which my acting class took a trip to see on Wednesday in Los Angeles, I had never seen a one-man show, which made me initially have doubts about the play’s ability to keep me engaged for an hour and a half.  How could one person, one character, maintain a presence so engrossing that they didn’t need anyone else on stage with them?  As you can probably tell, I was thinking of a one-man show as more of a really long (boring) monologue than a play with diverse characters interacting with each other in a meaningful way.  Coming out of the play, I am glad to not only have had my misconceptions cleared up, but also to have been thoroughly entertained in the process.

The main character Cris “Junior” Franco, played by Ric Salinas, narrates his life story through the lens of his beloved father’s Chevy, the symbol of the Franco family’s American Dream.  Junior seamlessly transitions from playing himself in the present day to himself as a child, to his father, to his mother, and to a multitude of minor but hilarious characters.  I was really impressed with Salinas’ ability to adopt the mannerisms, inflection, and tics of people of different ages, ethnicities, and attitudes.  Within a few moments, I had a good sense of each character’s personality and truly believed that Salinas was whatever he was acting as.  His exaggerated gestures and voices contributed to the comedy that kept the play light while dealing with deeper issues of race.

Salinas also made excellent use of props, especially the two desk tables that he writes on in the beginning, in order to help the audience visualize what was happening.  The tables filled in for almost everything--from the front door, to a coffin, to (of course) the Chevy itself.  Combining props with realistic movement and the projection of images in the background, Salinas always made clear where the character was and what he was doing.  My favorite moment was when Junior talked at length about the “stalker gringo Jesus” (which, if you are Mexican, you’re probably very familiar with) while the picture was displayed behind him just in case you haven’t seen it before.

We see all the play’s events through the perspective of Junior, who at ten years old has to deal with moving from the familiar South Central L.A. to the “Same” Fernando Valley.  The tensions between his immigrant family at home, the white people at school, and his distant relatives in Mexico are expressed poignantly through a series of anecdotes of his day-to-day experiences.  His father is shown over and over again to be an important figure in his life as he undergoes this process.  I understood the father’s desire for his son and daughters to achieve, especially in light of his background and the love he clearly possesses for them; he becomes a sympathetic character alongside Junior as a result.  Junior’s navigation through issues of identity and race is a political one, but personalizing it through childhood memories and a strong relationship with his father makes it more subtle yet also real.  As a fourth-generation Mexican American, I fundamentally appreciate the Latino Theater Company for producing a piece of art that I was able to partake in, even if I couldn’t relate to everything that happened in Junior’s life.