Creator Charles Schulz’ beloved Peanuts comic strip is not only one of the longest-loved comic series of all time, but the television specials that brought them to life through animation have become perennial classics. With The Peanuts Movie, the world of Charlie Brown and his friends is brought into modern day animated film with stunningly beautiful and unique animation combined with a heart-filled story that does the franchise proud.
Revolving around a simplistic plot driven forward by a series of interconnected set pieces, The Peanuts Movie follows Charlie Brown – down-in-the-dumps kid and all around great person who just can’t catch a break. When a new student known only as The Little Red-Haired Girl moves into town, Charlie is immediately smitten and tries to prove his worth to himself and to the girl of his dreams. Along the way, we see how his friends change their views of him and the literal flights of fancy taken by his trusty dog Snoopy, who imagines a battle against the evil Red Baron.
Translating the signature drawing style of Charles Schulz and the indelible animation style of the television specials into a CGI animated film is a process clearly fraught with perils. It’s that scratchy and rough style that is just as interlinked with Peanuts as the melancholy humor that pervades everything from Schulz. But Blue Sky Studios has created a truly special and visually astonishing animated style with The Peanuts Movie that brings the drawings to life in vivid detail. Director Steve Martino and writers Craig and Bryan Schulz, sons of creator Charles Schulz, have managed to recapture the magic of the franchise in a way that feels natural, not copied or overly reliant upon nostalgia, although a preexisting love for the franchise surely does the film favors when viewed by an adult audience.
And a major part of the magic captured here is the truly spectacular animation, which somehow recreates Schulz’ signature drawing style within a three-dimensional world. The fact that it seems both natural and mind-boggling at the same time is something truly magical. It’s clear that massive amounts of time and energy have gone into make this a unique artistic vision, with the sketchiness of the characters coming to life in their facial features, quick motions, and profile angles. They catch the eye and charm without distracting from the story at hand. And while this is most certainly the flashiest Peanuts product ever created, the core nature of the franchise is preserved, even if it is somewhat sped up in tempo and given a glossier sheen.
While the style and cast size of the Peanutsfranchise has changed since it began in 1950, the focus has always been Charlie Brown and his struggles. While every character brings something special to the table, it’s Charlie who becomes the moral and emotional center of each story. That’s most certainly the case here, as The Peanuts Movie, like the many specials that came before it, sees its central character attempt to overcome adversity and the viewpoints of many people around him. Whether this is your first experience with the series or if you are a longtime fan, you will be swept up in rooting for Charlie Brown every step of the way thanks to the relatable nature of the character and the great voice work performed by young actor Noah Schnapp.
Given that the Peanuts characters have been around for so long, their personalities and many of the characters’ voices are burned into the childhood memories of people around the world. Here, each beloved character has been given a new voice through the use of childhood actors (a choice that began with A Charlie Brown Christmas) that fits into previous versions while still being unique enough to not become a case of needless duplication. Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and every returning character feels genuine to who they are. Plus, the use of archival recordings of Bill Melendez for Snoop and Woodstock are a welcomed use, given that it was his voice that brought them to life for decades. While composer Christophe Beck adds many fun new elements to the score, multiple instances of classic themes by jazz musician Vince Guaraldi pop up and often make the biggest impression in the soundtrack.
If there is one weak point in the film, it’s that Snoopy’s overarching subplot involving his fantasy fight with the Red Baron halts the main narrative too often. However, these sequences, which involve the dog in an aerial battle with his fighter pilot nemesis over the object of his affection, are spectacularly animated. Because these segments are filled with twisting and turning aerial fights, the animators get to cut loose and astonish with their visual style. Blended with the physical comedy used throughout, Snoopy’s subplot is still loads of fun; it just messes with the film’s pacing every so often.
But those shortcomings can be forgiven for the sheer emotional truth present within The Peanuts Movie. The relatability and kind heart at the film’s center is alive and real, not the contrivance of a studio looking to cash in on a famous property, and that’s something that makes this truly in the spirit of Schulz’s work. Those ups and downs, ins and outs, and the fervor for which you root for Charlie Brown slowly sink in deeper and deeper during the film’s runtime until the very end, when pure love and truth is spoken aloud to our hero. Maybe it’s because Charlie never gets to win, maybe it’s because the message spoken is so needed for everyone who watches this movie, but this is an ending that landing with such a deserved emotional wallop that it left me crying well into the credits. Is there any greater compliment for a film meant to be relatable and inspiring to its audience than that?
While there may be no truly new ground covered here, The Peanuts Movie wisely stays away from constantly recycling old scenarios and dialogue. Sure, this is a film about Charlie Brown proving his worth and being depressed, but that’s the central conceit of the entire franchise. Here, we are given touches of classic moments, such as Lucy and her football, a snippet of “Christmas Time Is Here,” and the battle against the Red Baron, but the rest are fun reworkings of what is so dearly loved about the franchise. Should the film had simply been a retread or, even worse, a mis of the most tired pop culture references ala the Alvin and the Chipmunks series, The Peanuts Movie could have ranged from superfluous to blasphemy. Rather, what we are given is a timeless love letter. One that enchants and touches in ways that only Peanuts could.