Hollywood doesn’t have the greatest track record when taking a nostalgic classic and giving it the modern day big screen treatment. One of the most recent examples of this was last year’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman. As endearing as the trailers for The Peanuts Movie have been, it was still with great trepidation that I slapped on a pair of 3D glasses and prepared for today’s computer animated Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the beloved gang.
It’s obvious from the get-go that great care has been taken to evoke all the feels associated with the older TV specials based on Charles Schulz‘s comic strip characters. Familiar strains of music quickly filter over scenes of children ice skating and engaging in other Peanuts appropriate activities. The animation, while computer rendered, takes its stylistic cues directly from the hand drawn version. Instead of coming off as a more modern or realistic version of the Peanuts world, it simply feels like the characters have stepped out into the third dimension, being created with current art tools. It’s slick, but never too slick, with the style being deliberately informed by the hand drawn artwork you remember.
Like the visual characteristics of the film, the characters themselves could have easily been brought full speed into the 21 century. Thankfully, they are not. Snoopy (brought to life through archival sound bytes of the late Bill Meléndez) still plugs away at a manual typewriter instead of exercising his thumbs on an iPad. Nobody is texting each other or watching Netflix. The whole world is right where Shulz left it – albeit a bit shinier.
The story itself is very simplistic – the Little Red-Haired Girl has just moved in next door, and good old Charlie Brown is smitten. It takes the whole movie to work up enough courage to actually try to talk to her, after several seemingly failed attempts at gaining her notice. That’s about it. Of course we’re given plenty of familiar asides along the way, along with a daring story involving the infamous Red Baron and a pretty poodle named Fifi (“voiced” by Kristin Chenoweth).
The whole gang, from Linus, to Lucy, to Sallie and Pigpen are all voiced by child actors who miraculously capture the essence of those characters, sounding almost exactly as you know they should. Perhaps the biggest danger this film had facing it was pulling those of us who grew up watching Linus explain the true meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown out of the film with celebrity voices. Never fear – in voice, mannerism, and every other way, these are the animated children you remember.
Zeroing in on the strange depressing yet hopeful flavor of Charlie Brown’s life, it stays true to its roots. The film avoids modern cynicism, or painting everything with politically correct rainbows. It’s joyful, but with the stark reality that sometimes life just seem to suck – especially for a self-perceived blockhead. In the end we’re given something that we can feel good smiling about without feeling like we’ve been spoon fed a happy ending.
I have two complaints that keep this from getting a better rating – first, for all the carefully kept nostalgia and respect for the past, the film still utilizes modern pop songs at times, clashing horribly with the aesthetic that has been so meticulously built. Secondly, the filmmakers are perhaps too cautious about straying from the original Peanuts. Just about every trope from the comic/cartoon that you can think of is here, strung together in a somewhat meager plot. If you can think of something “Charlie Brownish,” you can bet there is a scene where it happens. There is very little of anything new offered up here, which is a blessing and a curse.
Aimed at fairly young children and anyone with a soft spot for Peanuts, it succeeds almost entirely and is a sweet film designed to help a new generation fall in love with this endearing family of animated children, and everyone’s favorite cartoon beagle.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
The Peanuts Movie moves into 3,987 theaters, including 3D (not worth it), November 6