Crying at the Movies is a series of essays in which Annual staffers delve into the films that have made them cry—why they cried, what was going on in their lives at the time. Which is all to say, there will be spoilers. Maybe a dog died, maybe two characters got together—just don’t come crying to us when we write an essay about crying when the shark blew up at the end of Jaws.
The Peanuts Movie
It’s safe to say we all have a history with Peanuts; the numbers born into a world pre-Schulz decrease by the day. It’s a morbid thought, but this is a series about crying, so toughen up!
My obsession with Peanuts began late in my college career when I briefly transitioned from idolizing Jim Henson to obsessing over Charles Schulz. I amassed a small collection of The Complete Peanuts books, and I watched a PBS documentary. I cried at the end when Schulz died, which my then-roommate chastised me over: “Guess what happens to the subjects of most biographies?”
A few years later I spent a half-hour portraying Charles Schulz for an Art Camp activity. Dressed in khakis, a Charlie Brown shirt, a fellow counselor’s prescription glasses and a notepad, I was well-researched and practically blind. I gave a 10-minute lesson about who Charles Schulz was and what he created. We moved on the Q&A portion. This is when being nearly blind came in handy as we had about 80 campers that summer and I have the mental capacity to remember maybe 12 names at any given time. No less than five questions in, and I’m asked if I—Schulz, that is—am still alive. This was a common question for the activity, even with famously dead artists like Vincent Van Gogh. We can only blame the current fad of dark cartoons about sad children for the upcoming generation of death-obsessed kids. The easiest way to handle the question would have been to say, “Nope, I’m dead,” and move on. Instead, I was faced with the knowledge that Schulz wanted to end the Peanuts strips on his terms, wrote a farewell strip to series and coincidentally passed on the same day it was published. Yeah—heavy stuff to convey to a room of 8 to 12-year-olds. Try not getting choked up while sharing that fact with 80 happy summer campers. So, yes, I have a history of Charlie Brown-related weeping incidents, as long and storied as my Muppet-related weeping incidents. But we’ll tackle the opening credits of The Muppet Movie in another piece.
The new Peanuts film starts on a nostalgic kick, hand-drawn Schulz-snowflakes that transform into stylized animation. If you’re as sentimental as I am, that’s enough to kick the tears into gear. Still, seeing The Peanuts Movie as a Peanuts purist, a portion of my brainpower was focused on rooting for Charlie Brown to lose. The minute Chuck kicks that football successfully, the whole endeavor becomes a cheap imitation of what Schulz would have wanted (purist spoiler: the football remains elusive to our hero).
As hard as you root for Charlie Brown to fail, it still stings when a comprehensive book report is shredded right before his eyes by the Red Baron. Maybe I expected the report to get caught in the wind or land in a puddle, something to break his universal failure softly, but the team behind The Peanuts Movie brought it on with brutal efficiency. This was the point where I turned, as Charlie Brown stood over a pile of shredded paper: I began to root for him to win. To be able to tape that report back together, into something coherent. But, of course, that victory doesn’t come.
Charlie Brown—in true Charlie Brown fashion—is beat down for 80% of the movie. Perhaps that’s why his minor victory at the end feels so sweet, in a confrontation with the Little Redhead Girl. She explains why she chose Charlie Brown to be her summer penpal. Every loser is given a moment that makes it all worth while, and we’re all losers at some point (except for Donald Trump, but this fact renders him un-relatable to any of film’s greatest protagonists). I’m a Charlie Brown. If you’re reading an essay about crying at movies, you’re likely a Charlie Brown, too. The Peanuts Movie goes to great lengths kicking Charlie Brown in the pants in the pants, only to remind you that there’s always someone by your side. Sometimes that’s enough.
On a scale of misty-eyed to bawling, I give The Peanuts Movie a solid weepy. Its tear-jerking moments may be more effective on someone who isn’t spending half the movie nodding their head like a pleased Disney Villain every time Charlie Brown meets with failure.