‘The Peanuts Movie’: From Emmy darlings to Oscar winner?

"The Peanuts Movie" has already taken in $117 million since it opened on Nov. 6 with many of those admissions at reduced kiddie prices. This 3-D animated film from Blue Sky, the animation wing of 20th Century Fox, commemorates both the 65th birthday of the classic Charles Schulz comic strip and the golden anniversary of the TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." That holiday staple is being feted with a two-hour celebration on ABC Monday night. Will nostalgia for this small screen favorite boost the Oscar hopes of its big screen cousin? 

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After all, the film is fashioned in the same vein as this TV special and the more than 40 others which have followed. It includes vignettes of some of the highlights of the strip: Charlie Brown tries, once again, to get the attention of the Little Red-Haired Girl while Snoopy pens a memoir about his daring deeds as the Flying Ace and must save his true love, Fifi, from the clutches of the Red Baron. 

The screenplay, steeped in these memorable moments and many more, is by Schulz's son Craig and grandson Bryan with an assist by Cornelius UlianoSteve Martino, who directed the well-received 2008 animated film version of the Dr. Seuss classic "Horton Hears a Who!," handles helming. 

As evidenced by the healthy box office returns, "The Peanuts Movie" has resonated with audiences. Indeed, it merits an "A" from CinemaScore, which surveys moviegoers. And it has been embraced by the critics, racking up an impressive 86 at Rotten Tomatoes. Among the raves were these: 

Neil Genzlinger (New York Times): "It’s a bit startling, and undeniably refreshing, to see a children’s movie that doesn’t involve a villain’s effort to seize a princess’s kingdom or some other high-stakes power struggle but instead is driven by the small anxieties a real child might experience on a daily basis."

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Brian Truitt (USA Today): "The creativity spills over to the technical filmmaking. The characters’ expressions change with the simplest line movements on their faces, and Martino gives Charlie Brown thought bubbles as a way to revisit old gags such as Lucy infamously pulling away the football before the hapless boy can kick it."

Michael Rechtshaffen (The Hollywood Reporter‍ ): "It’s evident from the very start — with Schroeder accompanying the Fox fanfare on his baby, baby grand — that those who may have initially cried 'Good grief!' when the studio announced the upgrade three years ago could just sit back and relax."

Peter Debruge (Variety): "The cartoon that emerges is not only stunning to behold, but also as comforting as a warm puppy (to paraphrase Lucy). One need only consult Tim O’Brien’s artist’s rendering of a realistic-looking Charlie Brown to confirm why the Blue Sky solution was the way to go onscreen."

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Four of the "Peanuts" TV specials have won Emmys, beginning with the Christmas classic that  succeeded despite misgivings by the network and the sponsors. The other Emmy winners were "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" (1974), "You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown" (1976) and "Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown" (1981). 

Blue Sky,  contended for the Best Animated Feature award at the 2002 Oscars with "Ice Age"; it lost to Hayao Miyazaki's arthouse hit "Spirited Away." This year's frontrunners for the Oscar are Pixar's computer-animated “Inside Out” and Charlie Kaufman's stop-motion “Anomalisa.” Both are well-crafted films centering on characters dealing with heightened emotions and inner conflict. By comparison, the somewhat gentler world of "The Peanuts Movie" takes Oscar voters on a trip down memory lane.

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