Film Review – The Peanuts Movie
The Peanuts Movie
What Charles M. Schulz was able to do so well with his Peanuts comic strip was capturing the mindset of a kid. Charlie Brown encompasses all the neurosis and insecurities that come from being someone his age. He’s the constant underdog, even when his obstacles are self-inflicted. Watching The Peanuts Movie (2015), I was reminded how much I identified with this central character: the desire to succeed butting heads with self-doubt, or simply blowing things way out of proportion. But that’s what makes Charlie so easy to root for – no matter how often he fails, he always picks himself up and tries again.
It’s that quality that makes the film such a treat to watch. Co-written by Schulz’s son (Craig Schulz) and grandson (Bryan Schulz) with Cornelius Uliano and directed by Steve Martino, this latest outing captures the essence of the comic strip while having a contemporary feel as well. But don’t be mistaken, there’s no winking to the camera or tongue-in-cheek jokes that would automatically date it. These are the same familiar characters inhabiting the same familiar world. There’s something comforting in watching a story where kids aren’t inundated with smart phones or tablets, or following the current cultural trend. This is a wholesome place where ideas and emotions are simplified to their basic elements. In that aspect, the production got it perfectly right.
The only real modern update is the visual style. Referencing Schulz’s well-known drawings, the filmmakers used computer-generated imagery to animate, but everything maintains the same aesthetic. All the character designs and movements are the exact same, and often times there are direct callbacks to the comic strip. Everyone you remember is here, from dirty Pig-Pen (A.J. Tecce) to Linus (Alexander Garfin) and his blanket, and the stuck up Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller). It’s a colorful approach, without risking the integrity of the source material. I enjoyed all the little details, from the pencil marks that help accentuate movement to the squiggly line that makes up Charlie Brown’s goofy grin. Even the camera placement is correct, repeatedly placed in a flat shot near the character’s eye level, reminiscent to the layout of the comic strip.
The central plot involves Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and his attempt to impress the new redheaded girl at school (Francesca Capaldi). Charlie really wants to stand out, and with the help of his trusty dog Snoopy (Bill Melendez, from archival recordings) spends nearly the entire school year trying to build up the courage to do so. Of course, being who he is, Charlie runs into a number of setbacks. The course of events is episodic, as we see Charlie enter a talent show, attend the school dance, and take on big school projects all in the hopes of catching the redheaded girl’s attention. Naturally, he bungles all of these attempts in epic fashion. One of the funnier moments involves his enormous inner battle just to ring her doorbell. But that’s what makes his adventure so endearing. Charlie doesn’t want to rule the world, he just wants to make a new friend. Would it have helped if we got to learn more about the redheaded girl? Perhaps, but this story is told through Charlie’s perspective, and the way his imagination gets the better of him is due to the fact that he doesn’t know anything about her.
All throughout the narrative, there is a ton of heart and compassion. As much as Charlie wants things for himself, what makes him such an everlasting character is how he goes a step above to help those around him. The consideration he shows to others, like his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) created a level of warmth I was not expecting. Charlie may not think much of himself, but what he does for others is truly special. That is the central theme here – clear and well defined so that a person of any age can grasp it.
But he’s not the only focus. The B plot features the lovable Snoopy and the yellow bird Woodstock. After coming across a typewriter, Snoopy decides to write an epic love story where he is a fighter pilot who falls head over heels for a female canine who also loves to fly. Unfortunately, their relationship is undermined by Snoopy’s arch nemesis, the Red Baron. Told in recurring chapters, Snoopy must defeat the Red Baron and rescue his love before it’s too late. This story doesn’t hit the emotional chord the same way that Charlie’s does, and it seems placed in only to showcase the action scenes. But it’s entertaining, and the animation does allow for some great aerial shots. Of course, Snoopy has to be flying atop his doghouse, but that’s a given.
If there’s anything that sets The Peanuts Movie back, it’s that it might be too energetic for its own good. The pacing moves quickly, and the jokes are thrown out in rapid-fire succession. Because the plot is divided episodically, it doesn’t quite have a smooth flow from one section to the next. But that’s trivial stuff compared to how good everything else is. I wouldn’t say this reaches the classic heights of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) or A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), but it’s a darn good entry point for younger generations to be introduced to a memorable character. For anyone who sees this and can’t find any kind of enjoyment, I have two words for you: Good grief.