Charles M. Schulz first created Snoopy and Charlie Brown in 1950 – chronicling the adventures (or lack of) between a young boy and his loyal pet dog. It begun life as a syndicated daily comic strip, gathering a loyal following that extended across 75 countries – with a readership of 355 million. It was a success on television too as a cartoon series, not to mention the popular 1971 Broadway musical that was a riotous success on the stage. And now, at long last, Peanuts is set to make its big screen bow, as the beloved characters hit the silver screen for the very first time – 65 years after their conception.
So what is it about this enchanting, timeless creation that has allowed for it to inspire generations across decades? For kids today to still be getting as much out of it as their parents were at the same age? Not many franchises can boast such longevity, so Peanuts must be doing something right – and the main factor as to why it does still garner such affection, is Charlie Brown himself.
Charlie is the epitome of an underdog – he’s well-meaning, his intentions are sincere and his execution so exceedingly earnest – but he has an endearing sense of bad luck; to be in the wrong place at the right time; to always strive for greatness and fall short, just. We can all relate to this character and his distinctive lack of self-belief – and that’s partly because Schultz was sure to thrive in simplicity. When Charlie Brown vies to achieve something, it’s not grandiose or overtly ambitious, it’s something seemingly insignificant and trivial – but not to him. Of course the most obvious example to give in this situation is the youngster’s wish to kick the football. He just wants to kick it. Like how he wants to fly a kite without disrupting the peace across his neighbourhood. He doesn’t want to set the world to rights, to make a difference – he just wants to gain a small dose of personal glory, and he persistently struggles to do so.
We can all relate to his shortcomings, it’s why the underdog story has spawned such popular cinema. The Rocky franchise survives off that very notion, it’s about embodying a character who isn’t a superhero, or unfeasibly attractive, or a wizard with a scar on his forehead – it’s about trial and error, and Charlie Brown is a specialist in the latter. What also works is that it’s only children we meet – we have a society run strictly by kids. This places children at the heart of their own story; they are the heroes of their own adventure. It’s what laid the foundations for the likes of The Little Rascals or The Goonies, and it continues to inspire to this day.
Steve Martino, the director behind the new outing – and first cinematic offering to depict these cherished characters – is evidently aware of that fact, and he thrives in such a notion. First and foremost, he is a fan of the comic books, he grew up on Peanuts just as anybody else did, and it becomes clear that his paramount objective is to remain affectionately faithful to the spirit and essence of Schulz’s creations, and it’s why the film works.
There were certainly apprehensions as to the implementation of computer animation – after all, the characters we know and adore have always been presented to us as hand-drawn (relatively flawed and imperfect in their depiction too – which seems all too fitting in this instance). But that becomes a mere side-note when the tone is so spot on: that’s what counts, and it’s why kids will be getting just as much out of this picture as their parents will – one appreciating the heart and farcicality, the other revelling primarily in nostalgia.
It’s encouraging to know that children will be exposed to these characters and this whole world too, as there’s a duty to preserve and treasure a franchise that helped to shape and inform our own youth, and hope it can be equally as impactful on kids today. The joy in seeing a child immerse themselves in a universe you once inhabited, and laugh at jokes you once found hilarious, is what cinema is all about. The current generation of kids are lucky to have a movie to watch and enjoy, so here’s hoping the one after this will be equally as privileged, as we celebrate a franchise that is likely to outlive us all – and deservedly so.