When I heard that there was going to be a new Peanuts movie, I was worried. I was worried that the folks who have taken over Charles Schulz’s creation would do their best to modernize it, peppering the film with cynical and crass nods to contemporary times (which would then age the film quickly). I’m thinking of the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks movie series that has the chipmunks attended raves and shaking their furry, tailed butts. I was worried that the new Peanuts movie would have Charlie Brown and his pals gab away on their i Phones or scoot around on hoverboards while playing with their drones. It was an unappealing thought.
But I was wrong. The Peanuts Movie is utterly charming. It captures much of the melancholy that is associated with the characters. The episodic plot has Charlie Brown pining for the Little Red-Haired Girl, but feeling he’s just not good enough. His low self-esteem can be attributed, at least in part, to his friendship with Lucy van Pelt, the bossy a frenemy who perennially swipes the football away at just the moment when Charlie’s about to kick it. It could also be because Charlie Brown doesn’t really know just how special he is. Every child feels this, only cartoons aimed at children tend to gloss over feelings of angst or worry, hoping to distract them with bright colors, raucous music, and potty humor.
But The Peanuts Movie is fine moving at a leisurely pace, establishing the characters and their relationships. Any excitable action comes primarily from Snoopy’s subplot, in which he imagines himself being the Flying Ace, saving the lovely Fifi (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth, who primarily yelps and yips during the film) from the Red Baron during WWI. The script is written by Cornelius Uliano, along with Shulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan. It doesn’t aim for anything than humor and emotion. There’s nary a nod to its 21st century, and that shows just how timeless Charlie Brown and his pals are. It’s nostalgic, but it doesn’t feel weirdly anachronistic. The major concession to contemporary times is the animation – done by Blue Sky Studios (responsible for the Ice Age movies). The new animation lifts the familiar 2-dimenional world of the Peanuts into 3-D, and it’s not an intrusive change. Using 3-D animation can often render characters zombie-like and off-putting (I still have nightmares from Polar Express), but with The Peanuts Movie, the film’s director, Steve Martino, employs his technology with an even hand – he lets the animation tell the story as opposed to trying to wow his audiences with what he can do (which is a lot of what kids movies do now). The animation is great, but not dazzling – but it’s not supposed to be. The only time it really is put to some use is during Snoopy’s Flying Ace sequences. Otherwise, the animation has little effect on the story. But that’s okay. The main charm of Charlie Brown is how low-key it is.
And though the movie’s targeted at the younguns, there’s a lot for grownups, too. There are nods to the classic strip and the iconic TV specials – as well as acknowledgements of the legendary Vince Guaraldi soundtrack. And some of the sadder themes of alienation and pining will strike a chord with the adults. The ending is suitably happy and victorious for our hero, and leaves the viewers with a warm and fuzzy feeling.