Review: The Peanuts Movie
By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
As a lifelong fan of Charles Schulz’s simple yet profound hand drawn comics and classic holiday specials, I’m happy to say that I adored The Peanuts Movie, a modern animated adventure from the folks at Blue Sky Studios that does justice to the original material in a genuine and truly special way.
Beautifully animated and sweetly nostalgic, this is a real treat to watch, bringing these beloved characters back to the big screen for the first time in over thirty years. They thankfully haven’t changed one bit, and it feels good to have old friends like Charlie Brown and Snoopy back in my life once again.
When a new kid moves in across the street, who just so happens to be the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi), Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) becomes instantly smitten with her, determined to prove that he can be a winner, in order to get her attention and finally be popular. Meanwhile, Snoopy and his best bird sidekick Woodstock are taken on their own adventures, fuelled by the trusty beagle’s ramblings on that old typewriter, as he imagines himself flying through the French countryside atop his red doghouse, chasing down the Red Baron and trying to woo a female poodle named Fifi, who becomes the object of his affection.
Everybody who is familiar with these characters will know what to expect here, and that’s exactly what makes The Peanuts Movie so successful and faithful to the original comics. Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) still likes to be in charge, and her brother Linus (Alex Garfin) continues to cart around his trusty blue blanket, spouting wiser than his years philosophical reasoning no matter what the situation. Schroeder (Noah Johnston) still takes refuge behind his little red toy piano, psychiatric help only costs five cents, and Charlie Brown has yet to give up on trying to fly a kite or kick that elusive football.
There is a sweetly nostalgic sense of familiarity here that is incredibly comforting for those of us who grew up with the comic strips and TV specials, and this close adherence to the original material is one of the most impressive and admirable aspects of the film. This is a quiet and gentle story, and it may sometimes move at too slow a pace for modern audiences, especially those who aren’t already versed in the world of these characters. But this simple old school feel is also one of its greatest strengths, harkening back to a time when kids were excited to go outside on snow days and telephones were still things that stayed at home and had cords to get tangled up in.
Directed by Steve Martino, and written by Craig and Bryan Schulz, the respective son and grandson of the original creator, The Peanuts Movie understands these characters, and puts them in situations that fit their personalities. The melancholic undercurrents of Charlie Brown’s constant shortcomings remain intact, showing him as an eternal optimist who never stops trying, and allowing for moving moments of emotional reflection when things inevitably don’t go as planned. There are also valuable messages to take away here about never giving up on yourself, no matter how many times you might get embarrassed or taken for a fool, and doing the right thing even at the expense of your own popularity.
The film features several delightful comic set pieces, and also some highflying and visually popping action sequences staged during Snoopy’s imaginary wartime fantasies, which weave seamlessly in and out of the main narrative. The look of the film is beautifully textured, using a highly stylized form of computer animation to make sure that the characters and backgrounds maintain the same charm and uniquely expressive qualities of the original pen and ink drawings. Despite being rendered through cutting edge technology, and presented in 3D, the animation still looks soft and painterly, and many of the images are lovely to watch unfold.
The entire cast of young kids do pitch perfect impressions of their original counterparts, as Trombone Shorty provides the famous “wah wah” sound made by all of the adults, and Bill Melendez once again brings Snoopy and Woodstock to life. The film could have used a bit more of the classic jazz music, but several of Vince Guaraldi’s most iconic themes are nicely woven in throughout, stitched together by Christophe Beck’s perfectly suitable orchestral score. Even the two Meghan Trainor songs, which might initially look out of place on the soundtrack, are used accordingly and work quite well in context.
There are many ways that a modern day adaptation of Peanuts could have gone wrong, but The Peanuts Movie works exceedingly well precisely because it doesn’t change things, keeping all of the original charm intact. Paying heartfelt tribute to these characters and their lovably unique personalities in a big way, this is a touching and entertaining delight for fans of all ages, and there’s something comforting about the fact that even as so much else changes, these kids still remain the same.