The real trouble with Charles Schulz’s creation began when Peanuts stopped being a comic strip and started being a brand. While there were signs that the comic was beginning to slip from its cynical take on the hardships of youth, the real damage began when the money got involved. Less and less attention was paid to selling a message (think Linus’s Christmas special speech) and more and more focus went to selling merchandise. Which brings us to the current adaptation; a cobbled-together cut of Peanuts “hot takes” that does away with original thought in an attempt to sell more Hallmark ornaments. This is a labor of love at times, but it is hard to see past the obvious branding to get to the intent of Schulz’s original creation. Good grief.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved “Peanuts” gang make their big-screen debut, like they’ve never been seen before, in state of the art 3D animation. Charlie Brown, the world’s most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic and heroic quest, while his best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron. From the imagination of Charles M. Schulz and the creators of the ICE AGE films, THE PEANUTS MOVIE will prove that every underdog has his day. (Synopsis by Fox)
It is hard to decide whether the writers take sly swipe at themselves halfway through the movie when one of the major plot points involves Sally selling Charlie Brown merchandise to cash in on her brother’s new found popularity. The symbolism is a little too on-point for it not to be intentional. Whether it was slipped in as a protest by the writers against the producers is a different conversation. There is evidence based on the careful and beautiful inclusion of Schulz’s original animation into the CGI Peanuts gang that someone on this project was working out of love rather than greed. One of the greatest concerns of fans was how the CGI was going to mesh with the “simpler” Peanuts animation. The answer is: amazingly well. So good that, at times, it is easy to forget you are watching a CGI film. It is apparent that significant time was spent deciding how to incorporate the classic Peanuts style into this modern medium. It is so well done that you’ll find yourself spacing out on the storyline as you watch the animation.
Fortunately, ignoring the plot is largely inconsequential as it is little more than a vehicle to move between the Peanuts gang’s greatest hits. These include, but are not limited to (deep breath): the kite eating tree, the red baron, the little red headed girl, baseball, the infamous football kicks, throwbacks to the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, Lucy’s psychiatric business, Linus’s blanket, Schroeder’s piano compositions, the assorted inter-character love interests…whew. All in a 90-minute movie. Quoth the little boy sitting behind me at the screener: “I don’t even know who these characters are? Oh that’s Woodstock!”
Here’s the cynical businessman take on this: to get this movie made and to earn enough of a return to justify making another Peanuts movie, the story has to throw everything against the wall. It has to cut so deep into the nostalgia factor that audiences will forget they are seeing a Frankenstein plot and instead get caught up in their memories. This is how we get an actual original Peanuts story made in a few years. Like it or not, that’s the rules.
But at the end of the day, this is a film less interested in mining our adult nostalgia than getting a younger audience familiar with the classic Peanuts themes. Measured that way, this is a highly successful film. It hits all the right notes and honors the original product while providing a safe option for younger children. There’s still enough there to keep the older kids and adults entertained, too. That is not an easy feat to pull off with a G rating in a world that is increasingly less innocent and more concerned with noise and color over content. This isn’t as soft a G as the “Winnie the Pooh” remake, but the same wistful nostalgia is there. It’s your cozy, blue blanket. Enjoy it for what it is.
TWO AND A HALF out of four stars.
Directed by Steve Martino
Runtime 1 hr. 32 min.