The Peanuts Movie reanimates the spirit of Charles Schultz

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Time to break those nostalgia goggles out and throw them on because it’s been 35 years, and we finally have another Peanuts theatrical release. Yes, the genius of the late Charles Schulz once again comes to the big screen, but this time we get a nice new coat of paint on this old rig, receiving a wonderfully rendered computer animated film courtesy of Blue Sky Studios. Under the screenwriting helm of Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan Schulz, and newcomer Cornelius Uliano, we are greeted with a story that stays true to the Charles Schulz heart and soul of the original comic strips and 2-D animations while maintaining the relevant and humanist message, there in maintaining a vision that we first fell in love with 65 years ago.

Directed by Steve Martino, The Peanuts Movie, introduces us to a rather new and refreshing tale of our perennial loser Charlie Brown, when the mopy protagonist falls for a red head girl who comes to town, and seeks to impress by becoming a “winner”, on the recommendations of his classmate and psychologist Lucy. As one would expect, Martino navigates the story through Charlie’s different failures at becoming a “winner” and chaos ensues as his dog and best friend, Snoopy, becomes involved and attempts to help documenting Charlie’s misery in his classic novella fantasy of saving the girl and fighting the Red Baron. Such a simple tale to create and classic franchise to play off of, Martino’s only challenge was not to screw it up, and yet this did become a problem.

As a whole the story itself was wonderful and the writing was excellent, grade A work on the Shultz’s part, but a problem did arise with Martino’s directing; by trying not to screw up and instead simply making a fan pleaser he played it too safe. He tried too hard to make a visually appealing movie with as many homages to Charles Schulz’s work as possible that he forgot what made The Peanuts such a lovable franchise, the message. While the theme of perseverance is perpetuated, Martino’s directing undermines it and fails to ennoble it as the old peanuts cartoons once did. This may remind some of Martino’s corporate pleaser Horton Hears a Who (2008), where instead of bringing Seuss’s message of universal acceptance and the prevalence of hate in the world to the big screen, he made an audience pleaser happy go lucky film, centered around a message of the value of effort from an underdog. Martino does the same thing here, where rather than exploring deeper emotional territories of right and wrong, or how to handle misery, present in the original Peanuts works, he delivers a movie that is wonderful on the surface, but lacking in the memorable moral conflict or lessons that made Charles Shultz’s Peanuts World so memorable.

So, while the shallowness of the newest iteration of the Peanuts franchise maybe be irritating and lazy at times, the fact that the movie is quite excellent in every other way can’t be denied. Intended to be viewed in 3-D, the colorful world of the Peanuts and sharp depth of the computer animated film makes it a wonderful film to be viewed in 3-D. Now, would a viewer lose much by viewing the movie in 2-D, no, but you gain quite a bit in the visual department by upgrading to a 3-D viewing. In saying this, it is pertinent to begin praising Blue Sky for their excellence in this film. Not only is the rendering magnificent and textures almost life like, much like Ice Age a Blue Sky animated classic, but it keeps the feel of the 2-D strips and animations one would expect from a Peanuts film with cartoony animations and hilarious facial expressions straight out of a Charles Schulz comic strip. Accompanying this, the voice acting of the film is truly on point, filled with emotion and devotion to the roles, some of my favorite voicings coming from Noah Schnapp and Hadley Belle Miller – voices of Charlie Brown and Lucy, respectively – feeling as if they were the original voice actors. All the voice actors of the film deserve recognition for their excellence including the late Bill Melendez, whose archived voice recordings once again bring Snoopy and Woodstock to life.

In the end, Blue Sky and Martino deliver a true fan pleaser. With an undeniably entertaining and homage-paying script and story accompanied by excellent animation and voice acting, we are taken on a fun ride through a land of nostalgia. We keep to Schulz’s original vision of a humanist tale, while shallow in the helm of Martino, that still brings joy to everyone’s heart 65 years after its debut. The Peanuts Movie is an excellent film that must be seen on the big screen that, though it may disappoint some, will ultimately bring happiness to both the adults and kiddies.