Plenty of Classic Spirit in ‘The Peanuts Movie’
It’s been a long 65 years coming for Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts characters to make their big-screen debut. And to be honest, one has to consider the nagging question if and how a Charlie Brown film would exactly fit into a more cynical atmosphere.
The Peanuts Movie is in a class of its own, holding dear to its age-old roots from the original Schulz days. The film starts off with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang off from school thanks to a good old-fashioned snow day. While the other kids are out playing hockey, Charlie Brown, the loveable loser he is, is fiddling around with his kite – which ultimately get “eaten” by a tree like the rest of his kites. Shortly after, a moving van arrives on the block. Yes, there’s a new girl plopped right in the middle of Charlie Brown’s life and he’s immediately smitten.
But this is Charlie Brown we’re talking about. And he is still anxious as ever and lacks a whole lot of self-confidence. It’s especially obvious when his beagle Snoopy presses the doorbell and Charlie Brown runs away in fear. There’s no escaping said situation when this Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) joins Charlie Brown’s class. And from there on out, it’s one episode after another of the traditional how-to-get-the-girl routine.
Even with Schulz’s son and grandson helming the screenplay, The Peanuts Movie is a risk-free zone, resulting in an unfortunate string of predictability. But straying away from the beloved source material would be an even greater sin. That is for certain. Instead, Charlie Brown faces a gauntlet of vignettes of success and almost immediate failure. He whips up a magic act thanks to Snoopy once again at the school’s talent show to impress the new girl. And that’s a fail. Then another and another. As easy as it is to back such an underdog like Charlie Brown, the narrative does linger on unnecessary repetitiveness.
That’s clearly one of the signs Charlie Brown triumphs better in his brisk 30 minute classics like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas. The heart is in the right place, but it falls short of being that sort of classic in the Charlie Brown mythos.
If anything, The Peanuts Movie at least attempts to be more of a modern-day love letter to Schulz’s vision. Nostalgia is everywhere. Vince Guaraldi’s classic score is ever present and always a delight to hear. But that’s just one of countless throwbacks. When Charlie Brown is down in the dumps for the umpteenth time, he seeks out yet another therapy session from sometimes bully Lucy. Still only worth a nickel after 65 years. Schroeder is still the local pint-sized virtuoso, banging away his piano playing Beethoven. Charlie’s little sister Sally continuously pursues Linus and his trusty blanket. Some things never change.
Fans of the series and who have seen Great Pumpkin, A Charlie Brown Christmas or other specials will pick up on lines being redelivered verbatim. And it begs the question where the dividing line between nostalgia and the inability to tackle new ideas resides. Because occasionally, the two begin to blur with one another. Most glaring is Snoopy’s fantasy as a World War I flying ace lifted right out of the Great Pumpkin special. It’s filler to pad out the short 90 minute run time, but takes on a bit of a twist when the kids begin to question what that crazy dog is up to again.
A blessing in disguise, director Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age: Continental Drift) distances The Peanuts Movie from being a contemporary film outside the eye-popping (though awkward at first) 3D graphics. Characters are not transported to present day situations, rather still use typewriters and rotary phones and make use of a library in a daily routine. Adults are few and far between. And the ones that are there still utter a classically comedic “wah wah” repsonse.
For younger audiences, there’s no better place to start introducing them to Charlie Brown and company than The Peanuts Movie. It’s rare nowadays to find a film without an ounce of offensiveness. Fortunately, The Peanuts Movie overcomes those odds and is equally directed to those who have been fans for many, many years.
Honest to a fault, The Peanuts Movie hammers home the timeless message that no matter how many times you get knocked down in life, you got to get back up. If Charlie Brown can do it, why can’t the rest of us?