The Peanuts Movie is like a warm blanket of nostalgia stitched together with modern technology. Crisp, beautiful animation highlights director Steve Martino’s ode to perseverance. Creator Charles M. Schulz would have praised the earnest purity of his classic characters, assuming the $100 million price tag didn’t render him speechless. The Peanuts Movie will enchant younger audiences with its spirit of adventure, while offering adults a welcome respite from irony and ugliness. Maybe Linus was onto something, because this security blanket never felt so good.
Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) may be a good man, but he can’t seem to catch a break. The local trees are littered with his failed attempts at kite flying (sometimes in the middle of winter), he has a standing therapy appointment at Lucy’s lemonade stand (therapy sessions still reasonably priced at one nickel), and he can’t even muster the courage to speak to the Little Red-Haired Girl who just moved in next door. Spurred on by his personal mantra, “Charlie Brown is not a quitter!” he decides to prove his worthiness through a series of ill-conceived heroics. Good luck with that, Chuck.
Helping him, as always, is his trusty beagle, Snoopy (voiced from archival recordings of the late Bill Melendez). That is, when he isn’t too busy writing the memoirs of his heroic alter-ego, The Flying Ace. Snoopy renews his rivalry with The Red Baron, who steals his new crush, Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth), and takes to the skies for some thrilling aerial combat. The rest of the gang is here, as well, including Linus, Peppermint Patty and her minion Marcie, Woodstock, and the dirt cloud known as Pig-Pen.
For younger audiences, this will be a delightful introduction to the beloved comic-strip creations of Charles M. Schulz. The timeless themes about perseverance, friendship, and honor add just a touch of melancholy to this otherwise lighthearted romp. Screenwriters Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz and Cornelius Uliano effectively intersperse Snoopy’s aerial adventures with Charlie Brown’s futility. Whether it’s learning to dance, or writing a book report about “Leo’s Toy Store” (a clever mutation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace), Chuck’s failure inspires the next chapter in Snoopy’s ongoing battle with The Red Baron. The excitement and genuine peril of these “dogfights” are more than enough to counterbalance the desperation of Charlie Brown, which might have grown tiresome for youngsters.
Director Steve Martino does a good job respecting the Peanuts legacy while still forging new visual ground. Many of the classic bits are still here; the distorted trombone voice of Miss Othmar, Snoopy’s happy dance, and Charlie Brown getting undressed by a wicked line drive on the pitcher’s mound are all faithfully re-created. We also get most of the famous Vince Guaraldi musical cues; an entire generation’s subversive introduction to jazz music. The visual style Martino delivers, however, is all new to the venerable franchise. The 3-D flourishes work well, particularly when Snoopy takes his doghouse for a spin, and the colors pop invitingly off the screen. It’s like our ‘70s stalwarts got transported into the modern age with their hippie sensibilities still intact.
Unfortunately, The Peanuts Movie also bears many hallmarks of a short-subject cartoon stretched beyond its limits. It feels too long, even at 90 minutes, and a few of the sequences overstay their welcome. It’s extremely episodic, as Charlie Brown goes down his laundry list of doomed experiments. There’s also precious little time for anyone but Chuck and Snoopy to shine. Linus gets a few pearls of wisdom, and Lucy slings a few zingers, but the movie feels largely devoid of their normally-strong contributions. And Peppermint Patty acknowledges that Snoopy is a dog! What’s up with that?!?
Still, The Peanuts Movie proves not only a capable addition to the canon, but a necessary one, as well. We need the reassurance of knowing there’s still a place in our world for wholesome, well-meaning characters like this. The filmmakers keep the plentiful callbacks respectably short to eliminate any “Greatest Hits” accusations from naysayers or purists. This is no cynical cash grab; just a celebration of perseverance and doing the right thing. When Charlie Brown sacrifices his already-pitiful standing to spare his little sister from public humiliation, you can’t help getting a little lump in your throat. Charles M. Schulz helped generations of kids to understand that scuffling makes you stronger. If The Peanuts Movie can re-introduce such antiquated notions to modern audiences, it has already justified its existence.