Editor’s Notes: The Peanuts Movie is currently out in limited release.
The good news for anyone anticipating The Peanuts Movie is that it holds very true to Charles M. Schultz’s comic strip and the original television specials that many of us grew up on. So much so that the film seems almost quaint in comparison to many of the kids movies of today. There are no fart jokes, no references to R-rated movies for the adults, in short, the film has no edge and you know what? That’s fine.
There are no fart jokes, no references to R-rated movies for the adults, in short, the film has no edge and you know what? That’s fine.
The story is about Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and how is life is turned upside-down when the pretty Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) moves in across the street. He wants to talk to her, but can’t work up the nerve. His faithful dog and best friend Snoopy (voiced with archive audio from Bill Melendez, the voice of Snoopy and Woodstock, Snoopy’s bird friend, who had been their voices in every TV special since 1966 but had died in 2008) tries to help him work up the nerve, but nothing seems to work. Charlie Brown embarks on a personal quest to make The Little Red-Haired Girl notice him and to make a fresh start with a new person who doesn’t seem him the same way as he feels everyone else does.
Meanwhile, Snoopy finds a typewriter in a school dumpster (where he was thrown after multiple attempts to blend in at school so he could be with Charlie Brown) and starts to try his hand at writing a novel. Woodstock tries to help, but neither of them likes each other’s ideas. After Charlie Brown comes home from school, infatuated with The Little Red-Haired Girl, Snoopy takes to writing an action-romance and that sets up the secondary plot with Snoopy imagining he’s a WWI flying ace trying to rescue his love Fifi (Kristen Chenoweth) from the notorious Red Baron.
Writers Craig Schultz (son of the late Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz), Bryan Schultz (apparently no relation to Charles or Craig) and Cornelius Uliano have done something with The Peanuts Movie that seems almost revolutionary when compared to other adaptations of the like, but really it isn’t. What they did was trust the strength of the source material and used it to great effect instead of forcing some grander and more complicated story into the world and have the Peanuts crew try to work through it. In their simplistic approach, they managed to capture everything that is beloved about this comic strip and put it onscreen without anything being lost in translation. They cash in on the fact that these characters have been known for many years so they don’t waste time introducing everyone, they just let them be who they have always been. This not only saves time narratively, but prevents the tired introduction sequences where characters talk to each other pointing out their major personality traits in general conversation so we don’t have to witness them for ourselves. They treat the Peanuts gang like we already know them and if we don’t, we won’t have trouble learning about them. In other words: they trust their audience. They don’t do any unnecessary updating, like having Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) charge more than five cents for her psychiatric analysis or having Snoopy be a jet fighter pilot instead of flying his dog house against the tri-wing propeller plane of The Red Baron.
It isn’t likely to win any awards, but it will be rewatched by kids and parents alike and each time it’s on, it’ll feel good.
The writers keep the structure loose and the story open enough to work in a lot of different episodes in Charlie Brown’s life without making the film feel episodic. Each plan he hatches to gain the attention of The Little Red-Haired Girl moves into the next organically and while the sequences featuring the kids may not be overtly cinematic, they make up for that with Snoopy’s high-flying adventure, which is the real comic relief of the film.
These touches extend to director Steve Martino’s choices too. No kid is checking their cell phone or taking video and posting it on YouTube, when a camera flashes, it’s a traditional camera and the picture ends up in the school newspaper, which is in print. Another stylistic choice that helps keep The Peanuts Movie feeling warm and familiar even with 3D glasses on is the way he had his animators do the expressions. The eyes of Snoopy and Woodstock appear traditionally animated over the CGI models and are straight out of the comic strip and the TV specials. When Woodstock flies, he’s trailed by a black dotted line to track his movement. Black lines go around Charlie Brown’s eyes to show his worry and other expression, making them all feel like they’ve been lifted from the page and put directly onto the screen. There are even times when Charlie Brown imagines himself and that thought bubble is an animation of the comic strip, like a motion comic. The other step Martino took to making this feel authentic is that he cast children to play the roles, not A-listers that could sound like kids. These kids are relatively unknown and deliver their lines perfectly, many sounding like the actors from the TV specials from the 60s (even more so than the voices they’ve used in recent specials). The kids don’t sound like armatures, delivering lines naturally and without affect. Martino has managed to pull some wonderful voice performances from these kids, so good that they could challenge the stream of well-known actors that dip into animation from time to time.
The director and writers, combined with some stellar animators, have made a film that manages to be both new and familiar, and always inviting. The kids may not get some of the jokes, but that’s due to the old-fashioned nature of them and not because they’re aimed at adults (truth be told, some adults won’t get some of the film either) but that’s okay. The whole film is genial enough that even if it doesn’t elicit a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, all of it feels nice. The Peanuts Movie isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking or monumental, but it is fun and comforting. It isn’t likely to win any awards, but it will be rewatched by kids and parents alike and each time it’s on, it’ll feel good.
The Peanuts Movie isn’t revolutionary or groundbreaking or monumental, but it is fun and comforting.