***This review contains spoilers. However, I will mark them — that way you can still read my thoughts without me giving anything away. How convenient!***
This movie could have been a complete and utter failure.
This movie could have taken the beloved Peanuts characters and dressed them up to fit our modern culture, complete with smartphones and the Internet. This movie could have been a poorly-written cash grab. This movie could have been filled with unfunny pop culture references and crass humor. This movie could have made Charles Schulz roll over in his grave.
This movie could have been or done all of those things at once.
But . . . to my complete and utter joy, it does absolutely none of those things. Quite the opposite, in fact.
In Blue Sky Studios’ The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is still the Charlie Browniest. The gang is still the gang. Snoopy is still Snoopy. Peanuts is still Peanuts.
And that is a very, very good thing.
Seeing this movie brought me joy. Not just for the nostalgia factor, mind you. Yes, I have pretty much always been a fan of Peanuts, especially after discovering the comic strip. But The Peanuts Movie does not merely rely on nostalgia to make a quick buck from audiences. It was clearly made with great care and respect for these characters and their stories that we all know and love.
Oh, sure, it’s been given a visual upgrade. But it’s still clearly and proudly Peanuts.
Okay, if I still haven’t made it abundantly clear, I will now. I loved this movie. I had a big stupid grin on my face through just about the entire thing.
So, to get into a bit more detail. The story, as you probably know from seeing the trailers, centers around the Little Red-Haired Girl moving into the neighborhood. Our hero, good ol’ Charlie Brown, finds himself enamored with her, and he wants to get up the nerve to talk to her and befriend her. The only problem is that he, in his own words, suffers from “a severe case of inadequacy.”
“I’m nothing and she’s something,” he tells Lucy at her famous psychiatrist booth.
“If you really want to impress her,” Lucy tells him, “you need to show her you’re a winner.”
Yes, Charlie Brown may make a lot of mistakes. He may not be very popular. He may not be very good at . . . well, anything. But he’s not a quitter, so he resolves to do just that: become a winner.
Now, I don’t want to give too much away here. But suffice it to say that while this story sounds rather simple and cliche, I think it plays out rather beautifully, and in classic Peanuts style to boot. A lot happens that ties into the main plot, and it’s all incredibly well-done. There are bits and pieces taken directly from the old strips and/or specials, sometimes as a fun little nod or reference and other times as an integral part of the story. But instead of feeling like a boring retread, it all feels fresh despite some familiar elements, which I was quite happy about.
I’ll get back to the story later. For now, though, I want to briefly address the visual style of the film. I think it’s brilliant! It’s a gorgeous translation of traditionally two-dimensional drawings on a page into three-dimensional computer animation. It’s almost paradoxical. It’s 3D, but it feels 2D, which is helped along by the little hand-drawn details sprinkled throughout the film (sound effects written out on screen, thought bubbles that look like the black-and-white comic strips, etc.). The framerate is also lower than usual, which (not unlike The LEGO Movie) gives the film a more handcrafted feel than your typical CG-animated movie. Huge kudos to Blue Sky Studios for pulling off the look of the film! It’s colorful, vibrant, and whimsical, and I personally feel that it couldn’t have looked better.
Oh, and the characters. The characters! THE CHARACTERS! All your favorites are here. Charlie Brown. Snoopy. Woodstock. Linus. Lucy. Sally. Schroeder. Pigpen. Franklin. Violet. Patty. Peppermint Patty. Marcie. And, of course, the Little Red-Haired Girl (whose name we still don’t know, true to the comics). And I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but these are the ones that get the most screentime — and, of course, some of the ones I’ve listed get more screentime than others. But that’s perfectly okay, because this movie absolutely nails each and every one of them.
That’s really all I have to say about them, actually. You know them, and the movie gets them absolutely right! And the kids voicing them are pitch-perfect! In fact, though it might seem like sacrilege to say it, I would say that they’ve never sounded better. And I love the fact that pretty much all of the kids voicing them are basically unknown (or were before this movie came out). Huge props to the casting department with finding these kids. They were excellent — all of them!
Just because the characters are the same, however, doesn’t mean they’re dull and predictable by any means. They’re the same, but we do still get some surprises here and there. There’s a pairing I don’t recall ever being in the comics or the specials, for one thing. But I thought it worked well (and it wasn’t central to the plot anyway).
I think the biggest surprise we get, though, is that Charlie Brown is noticeably less downtrodden here than he is in the comics. While he’s definitely still down on himself in the movie and seems to fail at everything, he’s also more hopeful here than I’ve ever seen him. Purists may nitpick at this, but I didn’t mind it at all. I’m a huge fan of the comics, and even I have to admit that I think they could have benefited from just a tad more optimism. (And I do hope I don’t anger any diehard fans by saying that.)
***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SKIP AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE!!!***
And back to the story for a moment, this also ties into the one big difference from the comics that occurs in the movie. In the comics, Charlie Brown never ended up talking to the Little Red-Haired Girl. But here, he actually does, which genuinely surprised me — in a good way. Again, purists may argue that this shouldn’t have been done, but I’m actually perfectly okay with it. Yes, Charlie Brown finally does succeed at something, and it’s also nice that he succeeds in a way that’s different from how he was hoping. Instead of succeeding by changing who he is to become a winner, he proves to the Little Red-Haired Girl, and everyone else, that he is a good person despite his imperfections (and despite his own doubts). And I think that’s a beautiful message. Also, come on, give the kid a break! He can succeed just this once, right?
***END OF SPOILERS. YOU CAN KEEP READING NOW. SO YAY!!!***
Oh, yeah! In addition to the main plot, we also get this subplot about Snoopy imagining he’s fighting against — you guessed it — the Red Baron. It’s a fun diversion from the main plot, but if there’s anything about this movie I can actually complain about, it’s that I felt that switching back and forth between these two storylines kind of hurt the movie’s pacing a little. I’d get really invested in Charlie Brown’s endeavors, and then suddenly we’d be back with Snoopy versus the Baron again. These parts of the movie aren’t bad by any means, but I do wish they were cut down just a little more. For what they are, though, they are quite fun — and anyway, who doesn’t love Snoopy dressed as the World War I flying ace?
Sound-wise, this movie really shines. The cast of kids are wonderful, as I’ve already said. The adults still talk with the “wah-wah” of a muted trumpet, which is still hilarious. And, to my eternal delight, a small handful of the classic Vince Guaraldi themes pop up here and there, “Linus and Lucy” being most prominent among them, of course. The score besides that, by Christophe Beck, works well.
This movie does, however, have a couple of pop songs in it. It appears I was misinformed about the director saying there wouldn’t be any in it. Unless he was lying. Meh, I was probably just misinformed. But in any case, one is by Meghan Trainor and the other by Flo Rida. Thankfully, though, these songs were written for a G-rated movie, so they aren’t problematic lyrically, and they actually don’t play in their entirety during the movie. They’re also more gentle-sounding, I guess you could say, than your typical pop tune of these days. So, while I do think the film could have done without them, I don’t think they hurt the film either. *deep sigh of relief*
I think I’ve covered everything I wanted to. So, with that, let’s wrap this thing up!
The Peanuts Movie is a triumph. It’s an absolute delight from start to finish, sure to keep both kids and adults captivated (for different reasons, of course). It freshens up the look of the world and characters while still maintaining their integrity. It looks, feels, and sounds like Peanuts. It IS Peanuts. It’s hilarious, heartwarming, and made with great care and respect. It’s good, clean fun that anyone can enjoy, and I think it’s safe to say that Charles Schulz would be proud.
Good grief, Blue Sky Studios. You did it. And this reviewer couldn’t be happier.
Four stars and two thumbs way up!
SO GO SEE IT IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, BY GOLLY!!!
Also . . . the world needs more good G-rated movies like this one.
I hope you enjoyed my review! If you saw the movie, tell me your thoughts in the comments!
See ya in two weeks!