My favorite animated neurotic blockhead Charlie Brown and all of his friends returned in “The Peanuts Movie”, an adorable film so charming in its dedicated storytelling and its visual style. But what to make of its appeal? Will it be a warm nostalgic trip down memory lane for parents or a fun introduction for a new age of young fans? Better yet, how about both?
The film is based on the classic Peanuts comic strip from Charles Schulz which ran for 50 years and continues today in syndication. Schulz produced just under 18,000 strips, several books, and television specials. Under its layer of light-hearted humor the Peanuts subtly explored a variety of issues but always from a children’s perspective. The strip was a window into their world which made it all the more appealing.
Steve Martino directs a script co-written by Bryan and Craig Schulz (Charles’ son and grandson). Their involvement undoubtedly contributes to one of the film’s greatest strengths – its faithfulness to the original vision for the Peanuts. The movie feels every bit in tune with the television specials. It avoids any urge to modernize the formula (which some saw as a dissapointment) and captures the same idyllic charms that made these characters so endearing.
The movie’s story is segmented in a way that channels the comic-strip vibe. The focus is on Charlie Brown and his every-present struggle with cynicism, self-worth and general bad luck. When the little red-haired girl moves into the neighborhood Charlie Brown is instantly smitten and instantly convinced she’ll never talk to him. But a number of opportunities arise which gives him a chance to impress her. Spurred on by advice from his friends (some good, some not so much) Charlie Brown sets out to establish himself as worthy of her attention. But is he looking in the right places?
Sprinkled in are tons of nostalgic snippets that will bring smiles to the faces of Peanuts fans – Charlie Brown’s kite-flying escapades, Lucy’s 5¢ Psychiatric Advice, Peppermint Patty’s classroom dozing, Frieda’s naturally curly hair, Sally’s bubbly crush on Linus, and so on. They are all here and playfully incorporated into the story. Of these the most time is given to Snoopy and his Red Baron tales. It’s a full-fledged side story that is given a fairly big hunk of the running time (I would say a bit too much). The Red Baron stuff was fine but felt more like its own separate thing.
I was a bit skeptical on the idea of 3D computer-animated Peanuts feature. 20th Century Fox teamed with Blue Sky Studios (known for their animated work on “Rio” and “Ice Age”) and clearly their goal was was to stay loyal to the material. The CGI is sharp, simple, and most importantly uniquely Peanuts. So many clever touches highlight the film’s roots while giving it a lovely modern day coat of paint.
You could say “The Peanuts Movie” clings to an almost-forgotten vision of childhood. It’s sad to think of that way, but you can’t help but wonder. For that reason alone the Peanuts are a precious commodity to be cherished. This film keeps their creator’s ideals at the forefront. For Schulz, children were precious and his strips offered kids and adults alike a look at life solely from their perspective. This film does it too and to great effect. Just maybe a tad less Red Baron next time.
VERDICT – 4 STARS