Mark Reviews Movies

The Peanuts Movie


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steve Martino

Cast: The voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Alexander Garfin, Bill Melendez, Venus Schultheis, Mariel Sheets, Rebecca Bloom, Noah Johnston, Francesca Capaldi, Kristin Chenoweth 

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 11/6/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 5, 2015

Just below the title appears that familiar long scratch of a signature: "By Schulz." Obviously, The Peanuts Movie is not the product of the late Charles M. Schulz, whose comic strip is still running in newspapers even 15 years after his death (reruns of old strips, of course), but there's nothing misleading about that signature's placement. Schulz' spirit of suburban innocence and down-home sweetness continues with this most recent film adaptation of his comic.

The most notable difference from the comics, the television specials, and the handful of other features that have preceded this one is the medium used to create this world and the characters within it. Gone is the hand-drawn style that, in motion, so effectively replicated Schulz' simple drawings and, in practice, so effectively complemented the concerns of these characters. This time, everything has been rendered using computer animation.

Some may instinctively flinch upon learning this information—and not without good reason. It seems antithetical to Schulz' style. It seems contradictory to the very notion of maintaining the spirit of the comic strip. To modernize these characters and their look in any way is either unnecessary or a cynical move to better market the material to today's kids. The Peanuts gang has been part of our cultural landscape for 65 years. We know what they look like, and we'd rather them stay that way, thank you very much.

To put it plainly, the transition to computer animation works, and it works better than some of the skeptics would think or might care to admit. The reason is simple: Even with the use of the hypothetical complexity of computer graphics, the artists here, under the guidance of director Steve Martino, clearly have kept the notion of simplicity in mind.

These may be three-dimensional models that we're seeing, but the filmmakers rarely exploit the characters' added dimension. In other words, they still look like flat drawings. Even when they character turns his or her head, the faces almost instantly goes to profile. Charlie Brown and the gang may now be 3-D, but the artists treat the characters as if they're still 2-D. There are even jagged pencil-lines of motion when Charlie Brown has one of his many mishaps or when the Red Baron strafes Snoopy's literary alter-ego, that flying ace of the Great War.

Charlie Brown (voice of Noah Schnapp) and Snoopy (voice of the late Bill Melendez, whose yips as the dog and chirps as Woodstock will be warmly familiar) are the stars here. It's a familiar story for the boy with the curly strand of hair in the front, the yellow shirt accentuated with a crooked black line (There's a funny bit near the beginning that gives us a peek at his wardrobe), and the constant feelings of insecurity, which the universe reinforces by letting nothing go right for him (He tries to practice pitching a snowball to a snowman, and he even fails at that).

A family moves into town across the street from his house, and upon returning to school, he discovers the new kid in town is none other than the Little Red-Haired Girl (voice of Francesca Capaldi). Charlie Brown is instantly smitten, but this is a young lad who has never successfully flown a kite. Talking to a girl is way outside his comfort zone.

Meanwhile, Snoopy, Charlie Brown's trusty pet beagle, discovers a typewriter in a dumpster after he's kicked out of school while pretending to be a human child ("No dogs allowed!"). He begins his literary opus with the immortal words of the most clichéd introduction imaginable: "It was a dark and stormy night." From there, Snoopy writes the story of the Flying Ace during World War I, trying to defeat his nemesis the Red Baron and to save Fifi (voice of Kristin Chenoweth), a fellow pilot who catches his eye—all while flying atop a wingless, propeller-less doghouse.

Snoopy's story-within-the-story grows a little tedious (The aerial action set against photorealistic backdrops of mountains and Paris is squarely aimed at kids), and it comes with the sacrifice of the other characters. Mind you, we still see Linus (voice of Alexander Garfin) and his comforting blanket, Lucy (voice of Hadley Belle Miller) and her cardboard therapy booth, Sally (voice of Mariel Sheets) and her little-sister ways, Peppermint Patty (voice of Venus Schultheis) her domineering relationship with Marcie (voice of Rebecca Bloom), Schroeder (voice of Noah Johnson) and his little piano, and the rest. It just feels like we could see more of them—or maybe just less of Snoopy in wartime Europe (The character is much more endearing as his owner's overly helpful sidekick).

What we do get on the other side, though, is a fine story about the eternal conundrum of Charlie Brown, a good kid to whom nothing good ever happens. The screenplay by Craig and Bryan Schulz (respectively, the comic creator's son and grandson) and Cornelius Uliano gives us a series of scenarios that hold promise for Charlie Brown's self-esteem (a talent show, a school dance, and an award ceremony in his honor). We anticipate how the universe will ensure that the kid's ego remains as shaky as it always has been (an embarrassing performance by his little sister, a big bowl filled with punch, and the knowledge that Charlie Brown simply doesn't win awards, trophies, or participation medals). The lesson of young Charlie Brown's life is as it always has been: It's good to be good, even when the reward is nonexistent or negligible.

There are so many ways that The Peanuts Movie could have gone terribly awry. Thankfully, like the simple setups and payoffs of the film's comic setpieces, the screenwriters wisely have chosen the route of the simple pleasures of Schulz' creation. Those are pleasures that are as ageless as these kids.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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