The characters of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts are perfectly timeless. There’s no need to have Charlie Brown providing regular Twitter updates, or for Linus to trade in his security blanket for a tablet; we find joy simply in watching their emotional growth and big-headed antics around the playground. It’s a complete understanding of this that fuels director Steve Martino’s The Peanuts Movie, as while the project presents a change in medium for the long-running comic strip, what remains the same is exactly what has made generations fall in love with these characters over and over.
Adapted from the funny pages for the first time in 3D CGI animation, the film works to pack in every notable aspect of the funny pages staple – all tied into a narrative that follows Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) as he meets, falls in love with, and tries to get the attention of The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). The movie is admittedly oddly paced and structured (continually feeling more like a series of episodes stitched together than a full feature-length story), and it also works too hard to try and squeeze in reference to every single notable element of the franchise (from the Great Pumpkin to the Kite-Eating Tree), but it’s so cute and well-intentioned that you can easily look past these flaws and just be entertained by it.
While remaining essentially and easily accessible to younger audiences, The Peanuts Movie is a really wonderful and effective nostalgia trip that succeeds largely through perfectly understanding the spirit of the pathos-ridden Charlie Brown (while also providing plenty of Snoopy-driven adventure). The various sequences in the movie do feel somewhat disjointed, but carrying the audience through is the continued ability to appreciate the lead character as the ultimate underdog hero – riddled not only with feelings of low self-esteem and adequacy issues, but also a tremendously long record of bad luck. There’s always been the sense that if Charlie Brown can get a win, we can all get a win. While he finds himself landing on his butt more than half the time, he doesn’t give up, and you endlessly applaud his efforts knowing any victory he gets will be fully earned. In impeccably getting this across, the film not only has a great message for kids, but also serves as a nice refresher course for adults who have been knocked down a few times themselves.
Because of the movie’s commitment to the classic feel for Charles Shulz’s work, the characters and narrative don’t provide a ton of surprises, but what will most definitely take audiences by surprise is the animation style – which is absolutely stunning. Without ever betraying the original look, the CGI animation gives unprecedented texture and shape to the Peanuts world, and when seen projected in 3D it actually takes on a beautiful snow globe-esque feel that makes you feel as though you’re truly seeing certain aspects of the unnamed town for the first time. There is also a tremendous juxtaposition created between the 3D CGI forms and the 2D-style details – as characters’ expressions and even Charlie Brown’s hair still look like pen strokes. It looks like nothing else, and it’s a joy to watch.
Really deserving special mention where the animation is concerned are the imaginative sequences that see Snoopy (the archived voice of Bill Melendez) take on his World War I flying ace persona to try and save his lady love, Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth), and take down the notorious Red Baron. While these are still scenes driven forward by a beagle riding on top of his doghouse pretending it’s a biplane, the vivid and action-filled style is shockingly engrossing and thrilling, presenting some honestly amazing aerial battles (that also happen to take full advantage of the 3D presentation). These moments are used throughout the movie to break up the story of Charlie Brown and his quest to earn the heart of The Little Red-Haired Girl, but as far as side-plots go it is tremendously entertaining.
A cash-grab, modernized Peanuts feature really could have done some irreparable damage to the franchise, but thankfully that’s not at all what we have here. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Peanuts Movie is a really wonderful continuation of the original comic strip’s great legacy that should earn it an entire new generation of fans, and is guaranteed to make you smile.