When it was announced that Blue Sky Studios was making a new Charlie Brown feature film, a lot of us had the same reservations: “The people behind Horton Hears a Who are going to botch another childhood classic! They’ll probably shamelessly modernize it with rap music, pop culture references, and product placement. Good grief…” Unlike the theatrical adaptations of Garfield and The Smurfs, however, The Peanuts Movie is one nostalgic property that understands its source material.
Like Charles Schulz’s original comic strip, part of the film’s charm derives from its simplicity. There isn’t an epic story here. It’s basically just Charlie Brown’s life over the course of a few months. He tries to fly a kite, participates in a talent show, and desperately attempts to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl. That’s about it and that’s all we really need.
This franchise has never been about complicated plots, but timeless characters interacting with one another. This film’s screenplay, which was written by Bryan and Craig Schulz along with Cornelius Uliano, couldn’t be more faithful in capturing the spirit of these literally ageless characters. Watching The Peanuts Movie, you don’t see people trying to impersonate the insightful Linus and bossy Lucy. You see the Peanuts gang without a second of doubt. At the center of everything is a lovable blockhead that never gives up.
What adds to the authenticity is that the filmmakers actually enlisted kids to play the parts. They all hit just the right notes, sounding amateur while also sounding sophisticated. The only celebrity voice in the entire picture is Kristin Chenoweth, who won a Tony for playing Sally in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Here, she creates a series of noises as Snoopy’s love interest, Fifi. Speaking of good old Snoopy, he’s of course back to fend off the infamous Red Barron. Using archival recordings, the late Bill Melendez is able to lend his voice to Snoopy and his buddy Woodstock once again. The filmmakers strive to live up to Schulz’s vision and they more than earn his signature.
Similar to Disney’s 2011 Winnie the Pooh, The Peanuts Movie is appropriately old-fashioned. Snoopy still uses a typewriter, people still call each other using corded phones, and the Internet is seemingly nonexistent. The most modern aspect of the film is its animation, which transitions from hand drawn to CG. While that may turn off some purists, the animators still do an impeccable job at recreating the style and comedic timing of the beloved television specials. It may be in 3D, but this is truly a 2D animated feature at heart.
We’ve seen the Peanuts on the big screen before in A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Come Home, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, and my personal favorite, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown. Although Director Steve Martino’s film looks more cutting-edge, expensive, and polished than any of the latter cinematic outings, The Peanuts Movie still feels like it could’ve come out 35 or even 65 years ago. Everything, from its jazzy music, to its laidback tone, to its strong moral center, screams the Charlie Brown we know and love.
Some may argue that the film is almost too loyal to the source material. It admittedly doesn’t take as many chances as a nostalgia trip like The Muppets, which found the perfect balance of old and new. In an age where so many family movies are overblown, cynical, and commercialized, though, The Peanuts Movie is something of a small wonder.