You’re always full of surprises. Good ol’ Charlie Brown.
I approached this film with trepidation. I’m a huge fan of the comic strip, one of the great American artworks, in my opinion and of both the Christmas special and the 1969 film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. After those, I felt that the movies/tv specials started to go awry and really lose the thing that made those originals so special. And then look at that 3D animation. It just wasn’t right, I felt, from the very first trailer. But I kind of had to check the movie out anyway.
And I was absolutely floored by the film actually. It feels absolutely of a piece with the previous films that I loved in the series and of the comic strip. The film is smart and creative in the way it nods to the original visual style of the comic strip via thought bubbles and, most especially, that final shot. The voice acting is uniformly good, particularly that of Bill Melendez as Snoopy and Woodstock; the decision to use existing recordings of him, rather than recasting the parts (since Melendez has passed away) was absolutely the right choice. The modern animation turned out not to be an obstacle at all; I felt that the film captured the tone of the world Schultz created so perfectly that I very quickly adjusted. The film is hilarious in the right ways (as in a lengthy section of the film where Snoopy’s flying ace is “shot down behind enemy lines or a bit where Charlie Brown is mistakenly believed to have scored the highest on an aptitude test). It captures past iconic moments in just the right way. I didn’t mind the use of more modern music at all and I particularly loved the moments when the movie let Guaraldi’s music peek through as in a hilarious rendition of Christmas Time is Here. The moment when the school dance transitions from generic pop music to Guaraldi’s iconic dance music was a moment when I could have stood up and cheered.
But it’s all in the tone with Peanuts and the creators here have been very careful to capture the tone of melancholy that so marks Peanuts. But they’ve also been careful to capture the moments of joy and affection that leaven that tone. Quite honestly, I think I’ve never seen the Charlie Brown-Snoopy relationship captured so perfectly; their relationship here is incredibly sweet and tender, filled with genuine affection, but there’s just enough of the sarcastic bite that the relationship doesn’t seem saccharine. In a character sense, I rather felt that Linus was sadly underused, but just about everyone else is used exactly right. The film gets the melancholy sadness just right. There are moments that play as very funny, but also moments that are very sad and intensely relatable as we watch Charlie Brown struggle to overcome his essential “Charlie-Browniness,” if you will. But I love that the film dares to end with hope. It captures something of real happiness and optimism at the conclusion. It doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the Peanuts world, which is bracing and refreshing in a world where kid’s cinema is sometimes too sanitized and cheesy, but it has the courage to also explore the love that is often overlooked in Schultz’s script and to end with a message of hope, a message that even the losers can succeed by being kind. I was surprised to find myself, a thirty-three year old man, misting up at the end of this film, until I recalled that I can honestly say that I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know who Charlie Brown and Snoopy were. More than that, I don’t remember a time I didn’t love them. I was introduced to them at some time before I began to form lasting memories apparently. Still, I can honestly say that I’ve loved these characters and been emotionally invested in them for, quite literally, as long as I can remember, for the whole of my conscious existence. Small wonder then that I’d shed a tear at seeing them treated this way. The Peanuts Movie has joined the canon. The original strip, the Christmas special, A Boy Named Charlie Brown . . . and, now, The Peanuts Movie. This is the universe of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. There’s apparently legal issues surrounding the idea of sequel. I’d rather we didn’t get one than to get an inferior one. This one ends just right; I’m perfectly happy with this wrapping up the journey of these characters. And, yes, I’m talking about characters from a newspaper comic strip. Am I overdoing it? No, I don’t think so. These struggles matter; these characters matter; these lessons matter. Peanuts? Anything but. 4 stars.
tl;dr – The Peanuts Movie is more than a nostalgia trip; it’s a perfect evocation of the Peanuts universe at its best, a worthy successor to the legacy; hilarious, melancholy and, ultimately, hopeful. 4 stars.