Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mr. Robot (Season 1)

Creator: Sam Esmail
Starring: Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater, Michael Cristofer, Stephanie Corneliussen, Michel Gill, Gloria Reuben, Ben Rappaport, BD Wong, Sakina Jaffrey
Original Airdate: 2015

★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)

                                                **Spoiler Warning: This Review Reveals Some Plot Points**

There's this myth that there are only about five or six stories capable of being told and the rest are just variations on them. I rarely thought about that theory until watching USA network's award-winning drama, Mr. Robot, which doesn't necessarily give us a something new as much as it takes what we already know and ties it in knots. But it's in how writer/creator Sam Esmail executes it and the techniques he employs that further push the boundaries of what we thought was possible on cable television.

Mr. Robot  Title card
While it's easy to categorize it as the most ambitious drama to hit the air since Breaking Bad's final episode and a hyperkinetic thrill ride from start to finish, expounding any more on the details is a tricky proposition. On paper, it had to be a tough sell and there are still unquestionably a few kinks that need working out, but it's satisfying just to know that its best season may still be ahead. Ten episodes are built on a foundation and premise that could have completely collapsed had Esmail and his terrific cast not sidestepped nearly all of the potential pitfalls to deliver a TV season so timely and prescient that it's scary.

The series wears its influences on its sleeve, causing detractors to slam it as being derivative of other works, which is somewhat missing the point. The best way to think of it is as a pop culture mixed media project, throwing such jarringly contemporary works as Fight Club, V For Vendetta, Dexter, The Matrix, American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, House of Cards, Black Swan, Star Wars and Hackers in a blender and emerging with this kind of bizarre Kubrick/Fincher hybrid that still holds its own in the originality department. And this, somehow, made it to the USA Network. Visually, it breaks new ground for the medium and as off-putting as it seems that I'd reference so many other pop culture staples, Esmail's debt to them is more often felt than conciously seen, as you're too invested in his story to care much about influences.

If 2015 had a time capsule, this series would be a good candidate to go in it, not necessarily because it's the best or will hold up exceptionally well years down the road (reliance on current technology may harm those prospects), but because it reveals the most about where we're at now. Conformity, social media, the economy, corporate malfeseance, wealth distribution, corruption, capitalism, the 1%. At this point, I'm just throwing out words, which is all that can really be done with Mr. Robot without revealing the plot and overall sensory experience accompanying it. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, as the season's arc loses a bit of steam in the last third, an almost necessary consequence to the twists and turns that proceed it.  There's probably one or two of those too many, nearly beating the audience into submission long before its finale. But in retrospect it provides an adrenaline-filled experience that's gone unrivaled in entertainment over the past year.

Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek)
Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is a depressed, anxiety-ridden twenty something security engineer living in New York City and working for the cybersecurity firm, Allsafe, with his childhood friend, Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday). Uncomfortable in nearly all social situations and constantly in need of legal and illegal drugs to even make it through the day, his only connection to people is through computer hacking, using his technological instincts to gain access to their sordid pasts, which frequently reveals criminal activity. A cyber vigilante of sorts, he doesn't hesitate in using that information to blackmail them, especially if he feels it's deserved.

The game changes when Elliot's approached by a mysterious hacker named Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) who wants his help in taking down Allsafe's most valuable client, the Enron-like E Corp (complete with a crooked E logo), one of the most powerful and corrupt companies in the world, headed up by Machiavellian CEO, Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer). Only Mr. Robot isn't just a hacker, but an anarchist recruiting Elliot for an underground group of hacktivists known simply as "fsociety," which includes the grungy, rebellious Darlene (Carly Chaikin), who seems immediately suspicious of the newbie.  Riling up the public with threatening viral underground videos, its public face is a mask that looks like a cross between infamous Gunpowder Plot member and V for Vendetta/Anonymous inspiration Guy Fawkes and Monopoly's Uncle Pennybags.

Bringing a whole new meaning and intimacy to the idea of an unreliable narrator, the pilot ( brings us deep inside the fragile psyche of Elliot, for whom the simplest of human interactions, both at home and at work, are becoming a near-impossible challenge. He's more open with us, the audience, than his therapist, Kristen (Gloria Reuben) or boss, Gideon (Michael Gill), perhaps the only two truly moral characters this show will have. Ranting about society's ills and his failure to fit in with Fight Club-esque interior monologues, he's psychologically weakened and ripe for the picking by the time Slater's repairman-looking Mr. Robot gets to him.

E Corp's creepy Tyrell Wellick
With Robot in need of a brilliant hacker to help execute his grand plan of deleting all debt records to incite a digital revolution, Elliot seems to fit the bill perfectly. But as his commitment to fsociety grows, so too does his anxiety and drug use, blurring the lines between what's real and imagined for both him and the viewer. Resistance comes in the form of E Corp's interim CTO, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), a Patrick Bateman clone and sociopathic corporate climber who takes a sudden interest in Elliot's activities, while leading a secret life of his own with his even more deranged and controlling wife, Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen). There's also a third party involved in all this known as the Dark Army, led by a mysterious transgender named whiterose (BD Wong), whose allegiance isn't completely clear.

If there's an episode where we first discover what Mr. Robot is as a series it would be the hallucinatory fourth (eps1.3_da3m0ns.mp4) during which fsociety's plans escalate just as Elliot is suffering from severe drug withdrawal. Taking place mostly in his mind, it's important in establishing not only the severity of his problems, but the notion that we can never be sure whether to believe what we're seeing or hearing in this show, especially if it's coming from Elliot. Torn between just crawling into a cave to disappear and being actively involved in real social disruption at the highest level, there's this internal battle going on that's best represented by his desire to help strung-out neighbor and sort of girlfriend, Shayla (Frankie Shaw).

Of course, the more Elliot tries to help, the worse things get, as his past and relationship to Angela and Mr. Robot, inform a lot of this, as details are frequently revealed through flashbacks and even passing dialogue. But most of just trickles out, with Esmail's writing and Malek's manic, wide-eyed performance rewarding viewers' attentiveness. Minute-to-minute, we're never quite sure whether the character's crusading actions are doing far more harm then good, such as in episode six (eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf) when his hacking eventually carries tragic consequences for someone close to him. Without Malek's pitch-perfect portrayal of Elliot's crippling loneliness and isolation, it's easy to imagine him being an impossible character to root for considering the morally questionable actions he takes to achieve his goals.

Mr. Robot lectures Elliot
After years of false starts and stops, Christian Slater's finally made the comeback he's been gunning for, this time with quality material supporting him and bringing out the best of his talents. What's so fun about the performance is how it needs to be re-evaluated and viewed through a new lens after the season's conclusion, calling into question everything you thought you understood about his acting choices and the character himself. The same is true for Portia Doubleday's Angela, who begins the season headed firmly in one direction, seemingly as obsessed with ridding society of Evil Corp as Elliot due to their shared personal history. Where she ends up by the final episode is a far different place, and while Doubleday sells this transformation as well as possible, it's abrupt, leaving some needed room for further explanation in Season 2.

Coming out of nowhere, with only two previous credits to his name, Esmail doesn't believe in explanations, at least not yet. Visually staggering, with actors unusually positioned in the frame and hypnotic work from cinematographer Tim Ives that rivals anything on the big screen, the images in Mr. Robot tend to linger even longer in the mind than its twisty narrative machinations. Even the show's 80's arcade-style title card (randomly popping up during its cold open) is a thrill to behold, as you're never quite sure when during the scene it'll appear. And music supervisor Mac Quayle's throwback electronic synth score and the frequently off-kilter song selections serve to only reinforce the show's unsettling, paranoid atmosphere.

There comes a point in this season where a major reveal is made. Some will see it coming from the jump. Others won't. But from that episode on, it's clear Mr. Robot becomes a radically different series than when it began. It's a risky decision to essentially erase so much of the mystery accompanying the first half of the season and completely change the game. While I'm still not yet sure the gamble pays off, it now places viewers in a position where they're constantly doubting whether certain events or characters are even real. That's a dangerous creative move to make unless there's a solid long term plan in place.

Fsociety puts its best face on
Esmail pulls the rug out not just once, but twice, over the course of these ten episodes, expecting audiences to trust him and go along for the ride, even as one of those moves marginalizes one of the best performances on the show. And yet all of it is so skillfully laid out that you really want to take him at his word when he states that this season was only the prologue of the first act of his feature-length screenplay. Having been burned so many times before with claims like these, it's easy to be skeptical.

As Vince Gilligan proved with Breaking Bad, adjusting on the fly isn't necessarily a weakness when it comes to creating great dramatic TV. But for every one of those there's also a Lost or The X-Files, alienating fans who believe the showrunners are literally making things up as they go along. While there are definitely indications of the latter at work, you can just as easily imagine Esmail delivering on his promise since this truly is like nothing currently on TV right now.

While the last few episodes of Mr. Robot don't necessarily come to a pulse-pounding crescendo, it still delivers on a payoff many would have deemed unlikely, if not impossible at, the season's start. And a cliffhanger. The question now becomes: Where can it possibly go from here? Topping this while still satisfyingly forging forward will be the biggest challenge ahead. As the first few episodes of Season 2 have already proven, this series, like its protagonist, has no designs on making any compromises for mainstream acceptance.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My Top 10 Films of 2008

*Note: The following is part of the continuing "10 FOR 10" series in celebration of ten years of Jeremy The Critic, in which my choices for the top 10 films of each year from 2006-2015 are revealed. Don't forget to check out my previous posts for 2006 and 2007. This installment will be focusing on 2008. Just a reminder that movies must have a U.S. release date of that particular year in order to qualify.


It's time to put 2008 to bed. If forced to rank, I'd probably name this the second weakest year covered in this series behind 2006. Like '07, I did compile a belated Top 10 list for this year, but very much unlike 07, a disappointed resignation accompanied my choices as I bemoaned their many flaws. Eight years later, few will be shocked at the films that made it, but may be taken aback somewhat at the order, which has changed considerably with time.

The Dark Knight, already an iffy choice for the top spot, loses that position here, dropping to a still respectable number 3. Let's face it: It has issues and the overabundance of superhero movies since has either hurt or helped its cause depending on whether you'd classify it as one. If nothing else, it'll always be remembered for Heath Ledger's posthumous Oscar-winning performance, which far surpasses the film it's in, which is still groundbreaking in many ways, arguably representing the high-water mark for director Christopher Nolan. But count me among the very few who prefer its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises.

Time has been kinder than expected to Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, in hindsight one of the wiser Academy choices compared to what we've gotten since. Every time it comes on, it's tough to look away. Gran Torino holds steady as possibly the best late-era Eastwood entry while WALL-E becomes the first animated feature to make one of my lists, with few Pixar films measuring up to it since. Its existence as a weird political timepiece/character study and the great work from Josh Brolin and the entire cast surprisingly allows secures Oliver Stone's W. to sneak in.

David Fincher pops up again with Benjamin Button, but even with its incredible final hour I'd still have problems defending it as one of his stronger career efforts, much less worthy of the top spot. Revolutionary Road and Frost/Nixon are both so ridiculously underrated that I actually contemplated sliding them into the top two slots just to make a point. I resisted because neither really get over that hump that takes it to the next level. Still, I'd contend both are near-flawless, representing the best the decade has to offer (especially the latter, which grows more exciting on each rewatch). Roger Ebert's favorite film of the decade, Synecdoche, New York, is certainly challenging and ambitious enough to take top honors, but could I sit down and easily watch it right now? Probably not, as I'd have to be in the right frame of mind, but its standing here may as well be a vote of supreme respect for what director Charlie Kaufman and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (in maybe his greatest role) accomplish.

But almost by process of elimination, it's The Wrestler for the win, a movie that's proven to hold the highest rewatch value for me despite its depressing subject matter and the fact that I initially thought Aronofsky's film arrived too late to open enough eyes to what actually goes on within the pro wrestling world. History has proven that theory wrong and as much as Mickey Rourke's tried (and largely succeeded) at squandering the goodwill of his comeback, there's no taking this performance away. It probably wouldn't my top ten or fifteen films of the decade, but doesn't need to. It just needed to be the best of 2008. Some runners-up that didn't make the list include In Bruges and Pineapple Express (both of which made my previous one) Wendy and Lucy, Son of Rambow, Rachel Gettting Married and The Visitor. Next up is 2009, where my crutch of referencing a previous list to inform these rankings falls by the wayside. From here on, the results get a bit crazier and more unpredictable.        

10. W.

"Stone paints (Bush) as an underachiever, full of self-doubt and burdened by expectations. In doing that, he sets the stage for the film’s most frightening realization: He’s just like us. And whether we want to admit it or not, there’s no guarantee we could have done a better job in the White House under similar circumstances. But more importantly, in being the first biopic to centered around a current sitting President’s legacy, we’re robbed of time, distance and historical context in examining the film, making for a fascinating character study." - 10/24/08

9. Gran Torino

"A lot of viewers had major problems with Eastwood treating racism and xenophobia as punch lines, which is completely missing the point. There are old, bitter bigots like Walt who toss around ethnic jabs for fun every day. And they think they're a riot. What Eastwood taps into with his performance (which if you look closer is a whole lot more than just growls and sneers) is that people like this are funny, just not in the way they believe themselves to be." - 5/22/09


"It helps that WALL-E, part Charlie Chaplin, part R2D2, is the most adorable onscreen creation since E.T. All the details of his personality and how they’re conveyed onscreen are amazing, like when he shakes uncontrollably and collapses himself into a box to hide when he’s frightened. We recognize his quirks, relate and empathize with him as if he were real, and the story becomes that much more involving because of it." - 7/10/08

7. Slumdog Millionaire

"The flashbacks span years with three different actors playing the characters at various points, tragic circumstances eventually separating them, until all paths lead to the moment Jamal appears on the show. As we’re given each question we’re also given the accompanying story behind it. They range from “Who invented the revolver?” to “Which historical figure is on the $100 bill?” The film constantly astonishes in how the answers show up in his life. One early query involving a Bollywood star, has a payoff that’s both touching, disgusting and hysterical all at the same time. We know the ending but it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Jamal gets to it, and that’s what kept my mouth open in amazement the entire time." - 12/19/08

6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"An accident befalls a character and Fincher flashes back, showing us all the little, seemingly meaningless events that had to fall perfectly into place for that event to occur. Had one of those tiny circumstances not happened, there's no accident and the paths of those involved would have been considerably altered. Life is a series of windows, opening and closing at very specific times, which can be a source of both joy and unbearable sadness. We have control over it…and we don’t. That’s life, and this film is rich with every little detail of it." - 2/20/09

5. Frost/Nixon

"After a while we realize that Nixon’s obsession with “beating” Frost has more to do with him actually wanting to be him. Beyond simply being jealous of his youth and success, in Frost he sees the man he could have been if only he had the people skills. His fixation on every detail of the interviewer's life, from his shoes to his girlfriend, suggest what in Nixon’s personality really caused the Watergate break-in and why he so sloppily covered it up. For Nixon, he and Frost are really two sides of the same coin. Both have accomplished much in their given fields, with neither being taken seriously or respected in the slightest." - 2/12/09

4. Revolutionary Road

"Fans of Titanic who waited over a decade to see the re-teaming of Kate and Leo will probably want to hang themselves by the time the final credits roll. This is not an epic romance, or even a romance at all. Despite the fact it was misleadingly marketed as Titanic 2, there isn't a single romantic element in it. It's closer to a horror movie. Think Pleasantville meets Rosemary's Baby with a side helping of Mad Men thrown in for good measure." - 6/7/09

3. The Dark Knight

"While played by Ledger as a sick hybrid of Clockwork Orange's Alex and Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols, the Joker still bares no resemblance to any villain previously committed to film. It's truly the definitive portrayal of this iconic character, with the actor making Cesar Romero and even Jack Nicholson look like clowns hired for a children's birthday party. Every moment he's on screen is pure terror and Nolan is smart enough to know the right dose of screen time to give him." - 7/20/08

2. Synecdoche, New York

"Watching, you might be reminded of more films exploring similar themes of mortality, human existence, forgiveness, love, and regret in very unconventional ways. But none like this. My mind immediately turned, in either method or execution, to pictures like Vanilla Sky, Magnolia, Adaptation, Stranger Than Fiction and I Heart Huckabees.  It shares its dark humor with Huckabees, as well a similarly whimsical John Brion score, but  Like Nicolas Cage's Kaufman doppelganger in Adaptation, Caden seems to represent the filmmakers' perception of himself and his failures.  This introduces an intriguing question. Can you criticize Kaufman for self-indulgence when the film is actually ABOUT a director's self-indulgence and how it destroys him?" 3/11/09

1. The Wrestler

" This isn’t a feel-good movie about redemption, overcoming the odds or even winning the big match. If pushed for comparisons, it comes closest in tone to the gritty Raging Bull, digging so deep and pulling so few punches that the professional wrestling industry as a whole had no choice but to disown it. The accolades and superlatives for that accomplishment belong to Aronofsky, and especially Mickey Rourke, drawing on a well-documented lifetime of pain and suffering to give a performance for the ages." 1/25/09

Top 10 Films of 2008
1. The Wrestler (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
2. Synecdoche, New York (dir. Charlie Kaufman)
3. The Dark Knight (dir. Christopher Nolan)
4. Revolutionary Road (dir. Sam Mendes)
5. Frost/Nixon (dir. Ron Howard)
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (dir. David Fincher)
7. Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Dannny Boyle)
8. WALL-E (dir. Andrew Stanton)
9. Gran Torino (dir. Clint Eastwood)
10. W. (dir. Oliver Stone)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Peanuts Movie

Director: Steve Martino
Starring: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets, Alex Garfin, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, Troy "Trumbone Shorty" Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, Bill Melendez
Running Time: 88 min.
Rating: G

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Supposedly, there were some rules laid out before production began on The Peanuts Movie, the first full-length feature for Charlie Brown and the gang since 1980, and the characters' first reappearance since the comic strip folded following creator Charles M. Schulz's death in 2000. When you hear about these ground rules (and they're good ones), set by forth by his sons, writers/producers Craig and Bryan Schultz, it starts to make a lot more sense how it took so long for the movie to finally get made. Flying in the face of nearly everything consumed today for family entertainment, Peanuts is unique, and what makes it so can't simply be replicated with an "update" or "reboot," at least while retaining the original's essence.

We found all this out the hard way with the live-action Dr. Seuss adaptations, one of which proving a 30-minute cartoon from the 60's can carry more narrative power than a big budget, star-driven spectacle that sucks more joy out of Christmas than The Grinch himself. The Muppets enjoyed a mini-resurgence, but we'd be kidding ourselves by claiming that franchise (or the entertainment world) ever truly recovered from losing Jim Henson, as their recently cancelled ABC series proves. But if these revived properties are competing with nostalgia and childhood memories, it begs the question of whether they even stood a chance. It only makes sense that it's now Peanuts' turn.

It's somewhat fitting that the director of The Peanuts Movie, Steve Martino, previously helmed Horton Hears a Who!, the only well-received recent Seuss adaptation and the first to entirely use computer generated technology. The biggest worry surrounding a rebooted Peanuts was the inevitability that Schultz's hand-drawn animation (so instrumental in conveying the warmth and melancholy of that universe and its characters) would be replaced by slick, computerized coldness. And in 3-D no less. The thought of Blue Sky Studios screwing up Peanuts is disappointing, but them screwing it up like THAT, on its 65th anniversary, is almost too much to bare. Then comes the added challenge of doing justice to the character of Charlie Brown, a creation through whom many children and adults see themselves.

A nervous, insecure failure or sorts, there's rarely been a children's character that's felt as real or genuinely inspirational in his refusal to give up. Luckily, The Peanuts Movie captures that while managing to create a look and feel that remains at least in the general spirit of Shultz's work. Is it as strong as the animated films from the 70's like Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown? Of course not, but they really only manage to get one thing horribly wrong, otherwise crafting an endearing story that caters to the fans and should have no problems pleasing uninitiated audiences of all ages.

Shy, awkward Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) seems to be constantly failing at everything. Whether it's kicking the football, test taking, or flying a kite, he's somehow capable of finding endlessly new ways to screw them up.  But when the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Angelucci Capaldi) moves into the neighborhood, he quickly becomes infatuated, making a pact with himself to master new activities to gain confidence and eventually impress her with his talent. Unfortunately, he's too scared to even talk to her and when all his attempts at picking up new skills lead to disaster, opportunity arises in the form of a school project he hopes will gain her attention.

With good-hearted sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) and best friend Linus (Alex Garfin) urging Charlie Brown on, he receives questionable psychiatric advice from Linus' aggressively loud-mouthed sister, Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller), who seems more concerned with gaining piano prodigy Schroeder's (Noah Johnston) affections than helping her arch nemesis. As always, Charlie is shadowed by his loyal pet beagle Snoopy  and his chirping sidekick, Woodstock, both of whom are fully immersed in Snoopy's World War I flying adventure novel, in which he must save Fifi the poodle (Kristin Chenoweth) from the clutches of the Red Baron.

One of fans' biggest fears is tempered right away, as the computerized animation looks good, but not too good, bringing proper life to characters we've only previously seen emanate from Shulz's drawing board. As expected, it doesn't quite contain that same warmth or personal touch, but as much of their personalities and physical quirks shine through as was possible under the circumstances. While I'm in full agreement with those lamenting the extinction of cartoons on the big and small screens, that debate already feels lost, and if it's between that or no Peanuts at all, I know which I'm choosing. There's a concerted effort from Martino to preserve and at times visually recreate nostalgic touchstones of the strip, such as Lucy's aforementioned psychiatric booth and the skating pond. And as mandated, there are no iPhones or tablets, with Snoopy typing on his trusted typewriter and corded telephones in sight.

All of these cosmetic issues may seem like minor details to those unfamiliar with the strip, but this brand is so steeped in tradition that a misstep on any one of them would be glaringly obvious, derailing the film and upsetting fans. In this particularly rare case, they're not merely "creative choices," but kind of an invisible contract that extends far beyond the legal department of a studio. The same is true for the music, with composers Christophe Beck and David Benoit handling the score and finding places to incorporate Vincent Guaraldi's classic themes, most notably his legendary "Linus and Lucy."

Meghan Trainor's more contemporary contribution (in the form of her single, "Better When I'm Dancin'") doesn't feel out of sync with the action, making for a fun diversion while also tying nicely enough into the story's themes. While even going so far as to resurrect Snoopy and Woodstock's original voice from archival recordings of Bill Melendez, the filmmakers obviously took great pains insuring that all the necessary boxes were checked going in. Most of the other voices are even provided by actual children, lending an air of authenticity to the proceedings.

It's unfortunate that aside from his one-on-one interactions with Charlie Brown, Snoopy is easily the worst element in the film, with his Red Baron sub-plot too frequently pushing aside his owner's far more engaging "A" plot with The Little Red-Haired Girl. It's not a stretch to call Snoopy's excursions filler since it seems as if that's exactly what they were intended to do: Fill time. With a running length short of 90 minutes and Martino having to recycle familiar plot points in the Peanuts universe, it was inevitable that the popular Snoopy would need a showcase. But boy is that showcase is a bore, causing me to dread any moment he starts typing away at his doghouse, knowing we'd be temporarily transported from Charlie Brown's struggles into a lifeless fantasy action sequence. Did the Red Baron material always seem so inconsequential? Maybe it's just an age thing, but it's hard for me to imagine that kids wouldn't also be fidgeting in their seats during this. 

Wisely, the screenwriters put Charlie Brown and all his insecurities front and center with the pursuit (or rather active avoidance) of his crush. Those familiar with the plot will deem it a worthy story choice for his theatrical return since it allows the writers to take him on a journey of self-discovery and remind fans what they love about the character. A new generation of audiences won't miss a beat either, as it's a simple, relatable one that's told well. In thinking he's screwing up again and again in front of the Little Red-Haired Girl, it's those very mistakes that turn out to be tiny triumphs in the end.

There's this clever meta subplot with Charlie Brown experiencing a glimpse of fame and adulation that ends up being short-lived. He can have little victories here and there, but this really wouldn't be Peanuts if he felt like a winner all the time, or even at all. His most endearing quality is how frequently he dusts himself off and keeps trying in spite of all the obstacles life throws his way. This thankfully remains in tact here, even if it does seem as if a certain authorial voice is missing that made the animated screen outings of the 70's and early 80's a little wiser and more in touch with the challenges of being a kid. That absent voice is obviously Schulz's. While it's impossible to gauge what his reaction to The Peanuts Movie would have been, it's safe to assume he'd be pleased audiences still remember, and that producers didn't abandon his formula.