The Peanuts Movie (2015) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast (voices): Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Venus Schultheis, Bill Melendez, Mariel Sheets, Anastasia Bredikhina, Alex Garfin, Francesca Capaldi, Rebecca Bloom, Noah Johnston, Kristin Chenoweth
Director: Steve Martino
Screenplay: Brian Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano
Review published November 21, 2015
Much in the vein of the various "Charlie Brown" specials that have become perennial holiday classics for many families over the years, The Peanuts Movie, coming on the 50th anniversary of the first animated special ("It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"), seeks to continue the spirit of those beloved animated gems with today's mindset. That modern mindset, it should be noted, only applies to the technical aspects of the animation, which uses 3D animated graphics, replacing the traditional 2D cel works of the past. It does not, however, apply to the characters or any of the story elements in the film, which goes for the classic Charles M. Schulz world of "Peanuts"; you won't find any cellphones, video games, the internet, or any characters with man buns in this analog universe within its digital animated framework.
It's been 15 years since the death of creator Charles Schulz, and this is the first film to be released in that time, making this an especially important film to get right. Obviously, when you're treading on some hallowed ground, you have a fervent legion of fans to contend with, who aren't going to take kindly to mucking up tradition in order to placate the young tykes of today, who enjoy anything with spastic slapstick, trendy pop-culture riffs, and silly fart jokes. To those who are skeptical, I'm happy to announce that The Peanuts Movie, the first theatrically released "Peanuts" film in 35 years ("Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown"), while modernizing the animation presentation, is absolutely reverent to the Schulz creations, to the point where you'll actually be reminded on many occasions of some of those old features you've made a family tradition, especially around the holidays. I should point out here that The Peanuts Movie is in the tradition of the animated films based on the characters, which skew more toward entertaining children, rather than the "Peanuts" comic strip, which tended to be meant to entertain adults and kids alike.
Though the movie weaves many side stories in and out of it, the through-line of The Peanuts Movie is in whether or not Charlie Brown will strike up enough nerve to talk and get to know the new girl in the school he develops an instant crush on (he's dubbed her the Little Red-Haired Girl -- she's traditionally never actually seen in prior works, but we finally get a glimpse of her here). Taking place over the course of a school year, Charlie Brown seizes upon several opportunities to put himself on her radar (a dance competition, a talent show, acing a test, and a book report on "War and Peace"), hoping that being seen as a 'winner' will give him the leverage necessary to overcome the instances when he feels like a loser with a perpetual streak of bad luck. In between this are several interludes, many showcasing some Snoopy solo daydream adventures where he "dogfights" the dreaded Red Baron to fight for the love of a French poodle named Fifi, high in the clouds, which is where the film's choice to render 3D animation is put to good use, even if repeated visits are a bit of overkill.
Pretty much all of what you'd expect is in the film, from the piano-based musical pieces made famous by the Vince Guaraldi Trio to the "wah-wah" vocal patterns of the never-seen adults who have speaking parts. In many respects, The Peanuts Movie feels more like an homage piece than as a stand-alone new adventure, akin to releasing a newly remastered 'Greatest Hits' compilation of classic oldies, getting to relive the moments that remind you of your youth with a little more aesthetic vibrancy. Co-scripted by Charles Schulz's son Craig and grandson Bryan, this is a movie that seeks to to continue traditions and tie in with the Schulz creations as much as it can, fully embracing the original works without seeking to do anything differently except for computer graphics and a few contemporary songs on the soundtrack.
Kudos to Blue Sky Studios for doing the "Peanuts" property right. They smartly decide to do the 3D animation while retaining the same 2D look for the characters that makes them still look and feel like their comic-strip counterparts as designed by Schulz. The voice work also is consistent with the traditional vocal casting we've expected for these characters, though not entirely perfect, for some viewers' tastes. You do have to admire that the crew used audio clips recorded posthumously by Bill Melendez, the director of the majority of the animated "Charlie Brown" specials, to provide the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock. In fact, the only disrespect to Schulz at all I can find within the film is that they've called in The Peanuts Movie, as its creator has long been on record with despising the "Peanuts" name that marketers chose for his strip in its early days, and which he decidedly would excise when it came to his animated features, which include the name "Charlie Brown" (or, to a much lesser extent, "Snoopy") in the title, rather than "Peanuts".
The Peanuts Movie is a charming and warm-hearted film rare to find in this day and age of zany anthropomorphic animals and mildly crude humor, and as such, it is a fitting return to the land of Charlie Brown and gang that should hit the right spot for those seeking to expose their young ones to the characters they also enjoyed when they were the age of their kids or grandkids. An important theme of the "Charlie Brown" stories has long since been that being a "winner" at everything you do isn't nearly as important at being true to yourself, compassionate to others, and realizing that down times will always pass. Being a good person above being the envy of one's peers is not an oft-heard sentiment in these self-centered times, which makes this earnest throwback to simpler, gentler viewpoints all the more essential.
-- Note: There are two extra scenes in the end credits, and a short stinger at the end.
©2015 Vince Leo