The Peanuts Movie | Steve Martino | November 6, 2015
When the first teaser trailer for The Peanuts Movie dropped last March, I was skeptical. The teaser was innocent enough, hitting all the right notes with the traditional piano score and some simple hijinks between Charlie Brown and his faithful dog Snoopy, but would the entire movie follow suit? Or would another beloved property from not just our childhoods, but of previous generations, get bastardized in an effort to make a buck off a well-known entity?
Thankfully, the movie stayed true to the world and characters that Charles M. Shulz created. While the plot is pretty straightforward (because it is the Peanuts and Charlie Brown is Charlie Brown), the end result is exactly what any fan of the comic strip and specials would want in a 3-D update: a wholesome and rewarding film that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
For starters, the setting isn’t properly defined. No year is given, but it feels like we’re operating in a vacuum designed for the Peanuts. None of the characters have cell phones. No one uses a computer. No shiny pop songs or pop culture tie-ins were thrown into the mix (or at least, the pop that was used did not detract in the slightest. Works from Meghan Trainor and Flo Rida do appear, but I didn’t realize it until after the fact). The entire gang and the world can just be itself, and that was a relief to see. It was also refreshing to see a film that’s aimed at a younger demographic not try the usual family film tropes. This film operated on a “less is more” dynamic, and compared to hyperactive fare like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Hotel Transylvania, it trusts that its young audience will pay attention. That was largely the case at the screening I attended. Well over half of the theater was filled with young children, and they were surprisingly focused.
The animation is also top notch. 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios, the same studio that made the Ice Age films along with the adaptation of Horton Hears a Who, did a tremendous job bringing these characters to life. While the film is in 3-D, and there are some truly beautiful sequences and scenes created involving Snoopy and his battles with the Red Baron, it feels like you’re watching an extension of the comic strip. The first scene plays on this with 2-D drawings of snowflakes that transition into the wintry 3-D snowfall. The scenes are bright and colorful, but there’s a subtlety that doesn’t distract. It’s a beautiful place for these characters to be, one that Charles Schulz probably never even dreamed of.
As for the film itself, the plot centers on Charlie Brown’s attempts to impress the new kid in town, The Little Red-Haired Girl, despite his unimpressive past. All of Charlie’s highlights (or lowlights) are covered: his inability to fly a kite, his lack of baseball skills, his penchant for getting in the way of those around him, the constant disdain from Lucy, and he desperately wants to change who he is. Charlie goes to several great lengths to try and win over his crush, but it wouldn’t be the Peanuts if things didn’t go wrong somewhere along the way. After each step he becomes more determined than ever, even through his bouts of pessimism and inadequacy, to get it right. The ultimate resolution plays out like a traditional underdog story, but the morals of self-acceptance and self-worth ring true for kids and grown-ups alike.
Outside of the main plot, director Steve Martino and screenwriters Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz and Cornelius Uliano had plenty of history to mine. A majority of the B-plot focuses on Snoopy’s attempt to novelize his fictional battles with his nemesis, the Red Baron. As he does in many of the specials, Snoopy steals scenes throughout the course of the whole movie. Whether he’s terrorizing Linus or impressing as Joe Cool, the lovable beagle never fails to entertain. The entire Peanuts crew gets their nostalgic gags in, and none of it feels forced at all. Everyone involved took great care to create something true to the original comic strip, and it shows.
There are plenty of times throughout the film where I saw a lot of myself in Charlie Brown. To this day I battle with confidence issues. I doubt myself constantly. I worry whether or not I’m capable or good enough just like Chuck. But if Charlie Brown can muster up the motivation to keep flying that kite, keep throwing that fastball, keep running up to that football, then all of us can. Even if the world keeps you down, there’s always the next fight and the chance for that next win. No matter how much of a blockhead you might think you are, there’s something great in all of us.