REVIEW: The Peanuts Movie [2015]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: G | Runtime: 88 minutes | Release Date: November 6th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Blue Sky Studios / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Steve Martino
Writer(s): Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz & Cornelius Uliano / Charles M. Schulz (comic strip)

“Good grief”

It’s been at least a decade since I saw anything Peanuts related so saying that Steve Martino‘s The Peanuts Movie felt like old times has to be the best compliment I can bestow. The story itself doesn’t have the type of classic longevity of its predecessors—A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown—but it does possess the heart necessary to imprint on a new generation of children so parents can retrieve those past adventures as fresh lessons in being kind, generous, and an all-around friend. The animators even brilliantly use old black and white motion strips in flashback thought bubbles to expose the original aesthetic creator Charles M. Schulz utilized in print. There’s still something wonderful about the simplicity of those cells.

The filmmakers found a way to stay true to that trademarked appeal despite rounding out the character designs in a sort of relief 3D. Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and the rest pop off the screen yet retain the thick black-lined action markers and expressive wrinkles of old. There’s whimsy to the juxtaposition of past and present styles lending it a uniqueness that sets it apart from Dreamworks and Pixar polish. It’s therefore no surprise to see both Schulz’s son Craig (who originated the plot idea) and screenwriter grandson Bryan (who fleshed it out into a more robust feature) involved with co-writer Cornelius Uliano. Hoping to honor the Peanuts legacy as the cherished property it is, they’ve upheld that memory through Charlie Brown and Snoopy’s quests for puppy love.

Their adventures stem from the arrival of a new classmate known as The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). Charlie Brown falls in love instantly and hopes to show her that he’s not the nervous wreck everyone else knows him to be. Snoopy (voiced by Bill Melendez courtesy of archival footage along with Woodstock) sees this budding romance and decides to imagine one for himself in fictional fighter pilot Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth) with the infamous Red Baron in pursuit. We therefore watch as the school year progresses and both heroes restlessly continue their attempts to save the day. Whereas Snoopy’s stakes are life and death—albeit made-up details of a typewritten story he’s begun—Charlie Brown is tasked with completing a joint book report while his crush is out-of-town.

In the meantime, however, we are given every Peanuts motif—a maneuver that helps entrench newcomers in their world despite being a bit tedious for those like me who are already familiar with each. I’m talking Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) and her psychiatry booth; Pig-Pen (A.J. Tecce) unwittingly getting cleaned; Schroeder (Noah Johnston) becoming responsible for the internal score on his piano; and myriad examples of unrequited love the series has keep intact for decades. Sometimes they feel forced, but I will admit that for the most part they are natural inclusions in the context of present events. Their beauty is the ability to be repeated ad nauseam by being worthwhile to countless situations. Yes, even Lucy and her football shenanigans preying on Brown’s unshakeable goodwill.

Linus (Alexander Garfin) offers mature-beyond-his-years advice, Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) and Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) supply their iconic “professional” relationship, and the school-centered activities mirror those which the kids in the audience also experience—standardized testing, dances, assemblies, and more. It’s through these that Charlie Brown has his opportunity to impress The Little Red-Haired Girl beyond school-work, but to his chagrin each chance to “wow” her ends with his huge heart and conscience letting someone else like sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) take the spotlight. We as adults know these types of selfless acts are more important than flashiness, so it’s his ultimate recognition of this truth that gets the little ones watching to understand too. It’s a priceless message the exorbitant price of tickets and popcorn can’t diminish.

Along with its moral center and visually captivating surface, the filmmakers should be applauded for making sure every character is voiced by a child of comparable age. Many of these kids have only one or two other credits to their name, so they lend an authenticity and naturalism a famous celebrity’s familiarity would take away. This renders The Peanuts Movie to be about the message above anything else. We’re watching to see how Charlie Brown lifts himself up despite his self-proclaimed failures at flying kites, doing magic, or whatever else fueling Lucy to pejoratively call him a “blockhead”. Add the action-packed sequences of Snoopy and Woodstock flying a doghouse after The Red Baron’s plane and there’s enough fun to temper those life lessons paralleling it.

There’s a reason Schulz’s work is so timeless and it isn’t the inclusion of bells and whistles. The parables were always paramount and his son and grandson do well to ensure this truth is uncompromised by pushing their way into producer positions alongside screenwriting jobs. I do think they rely a little too heavily on tradition, but also understand their target audience consists of first-time viewers. To throw regular tropes out would be to replace them with things outside Peanuts canon that risk destroying the point, but maybe sticking to the old 25-minute formula could have helped. I only hope Fox ignores the urge to pop another out too soon, realizing there’s more involved than the sheer bottom-line. These characters deserve respect and thus far they’ve received it.


photography:
[1] Charlie Brown and his best pal Snoopy enjoy a winter’s day. Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox & peanuts Worldwide LLC
[2] Snoopy takes to the skies to battle his arch nemesis. Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox & peanuts Worldwide LLC
[3] Lucy (foreground) is none too happy about Charlie Brown’s newfound status, in THE PEANUTS MOVIE. Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox & peanuts Worldwide LLC

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