The Peanuts comic strip is a beloved staple of the daily newspaper and has been shared with friends and family across the world. When it was put in animated form and translated to television in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas might have easily turned into a forgettable attempt at capturing the charm of its literary form, but with the help of Charles M. Schulz, Bill Melendez, and the inspirational, musical talents of Vince Guaraldi it became a nostalgic time capsule of youth and innocence. The addition of child actors, and their energetic voices, brought the characters to life even more. Mature characters with huge vocabularies and the ability to suffer anxiety issues about the smallest problems, such as a lost blanket or a kite-eating tree, makes Charlie Brown, and his friends, a treat to enjoy in any medium. There were a few feature films that made their way to the big screen from the late 60’s to the early 80’s, but since then it has been straight to television or video. Even though the annual reruns around the holidays keep our memories of this lovable crew alive, it only seems natural for a new movie to finally come out after so many decades and bring a fresh face to the world of Peanuts that kids today can discover and enjoy.
In The Peanuts Movie, directed by Steve Martino, winter break has started and Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) finds out a little red-haired girl has moved in across the street. Struggling with a barrage of insecurities, he obtains a book on confidence and sets out to prove he is the man of her dreams. Meanwhile his dog Snoopy discovers a talent for writing and, using a discarded typewriter, conjures up a story of love set in World War I involving himself, the Red Baron and a dog named Fifi. Charlie Brown also has a sister named Sally and a best friend named Linus, who goes nowhere without his trusted blanket. Sally is madly in love with Linus, which is not at all reciprocated. The rest of the cast consists of Lucy (Linus’ sister), Peppermint Patty (an athletic daredevil), Marcie (Patty’s little helper), Schroeder(the pianist obsessed with Beethoven), and several others.
Charlie Brown’s quest to woo the little red-haired girl is a fun adventure that leads him to tackle other problems in life such as dancing and book reports. He is met with disappoint at almost every turn, but never resorts to taking the shortcut or easy road. He accepts his fate as the source of bad luck and seeks to make his friends’ lives better instead.
One of the most memorable parts of the original Charlie Brown cartoons is the music and this movie finds several moments to bring that special Vince Guaraldi sound back. There is new music too, but it’s never unwelcome and only enhances the humor in certain scenes.
When it was announced that this film would be done in 3D, I was skeptical the charm of the original animation would remain, but somehow the animators found a great compromise of 3D animation with 2D facial expressions. The result is a perfect blend of immersive imagery with familiar tones and faces. The scenes with Snoopy and the Red Baron are very breathtaking. In the quiet moments, such as when Charlie Brown is in his bedroom reading or working on a magic trick, you forget the 3D is even there and I think that’s one of the areas where they really succeeded.
The use of child actors once again is a terrific idea, although bringing back Bill Melendez to voice Snoopy and Woodstock is a nice touch too. Not only do you have the personalities of children projecting the enthusiasm written in the script, you also get them to recite lines that make more sense coming from adults. Scenes that are hilariously absurd coming from the mouths of babes. When Marcie helps Charlie Brown choose a book in the library to do a book report on, you can’t help but laugh when he decides to impress the little red-haired girl by picking the largest book ever. A book even college students would hesitate to tackle. Charlie Brown may suffer from depression or an iron deficiency, but when he sets his mind to it there is no end to his ambition.
If I had to nitpick this movie, I’d say it could have moved along better and found better ways to hit those comedic notes. Also I love Vince Guaraldi and would have appreciated more of his music throughout the film, but that’s just a preference.
If you don’t like the Peanuts comic strip or the cartoons, you may not be interested in The Peanuts Movie, but those who give it a chance will find it’s a fun, love story from a kid’s perspective. It lacks satire and cynical, pop-culture references, which is a nice change of pace from modern, animated films that try to keep you interested with cheap gags. It’s straightforward storytelling with well-rounded characters who revel in their strange idiosyncrasies. Whether it’s Pig Pen’s dusty lifestyle or Lucy’s psychiatry for a nickel, the Peanuts gang have taught us that it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin and do what you love. Also make sure you help your friends along the way should the need arise. I believe the philosophical message of the original comic strip is sustained by the help of Charles Schulz’s sons, Bryan and Craig, being involved in the screenplay.
If this film is successful, I imagine the studio has sequels in mind and I can’t wait to see what other adventures they have planned for Charlie Brown. Perhaps a trip to Paris. All the nods to the original series, from the Christmas episode, to Schroeder’s brilliant piano playing, to Charlie Brown’s football foibles, to the use of the words Blockhead and Good Grief are included in this movie. So if this is the first experience children have with the Peanuts gang they will be well-versed in their Charlie Brown knowledge should you decide to test them. Just don’t forget to break out the classics from time to time.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE:[usr 4]
About The Peanuts Movie
Synopsis: Snoopy embarks upon his greatest mission as he and his team take to the skies to pursue their arch-nemesis, while his best pal Charlie Brown begins his own epic quest back home.
Director: Steve Martino
Writers: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, based on characters by Charles M. Schulz
Stars: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez, Noah Johnston, Rebecca Bloom, Anastasia Bredikhina, Alexander Garfin, Venus Schultheis, Mariel Sheets
Runtime: 93 Minutes