I personally never read many Peanuts strips or watched the specials much growing up, but through cultural osmosis I think everybody in the western world has some connection to the adventures of Charlie Brown & Snoopy. Charles Schulz’ timeless characters so perfectly sum up the essence of childhood, and that’s why they’ve survived so long in the public conscience.
The prospect of doing a feature-length animated film is something I’m sure many fans of the strip were concerned would be a Hollywood cash-grab, modernising the material without any respect for what it truly means purely because it’s a brand. Thankfully, The Peanuts Movie is a far cry from that presumption and a true delight of an animated film.
Whilst The Peanuts Movie does have an overarching story concerning Charlie Brown trying to find a way to impress the new girl next door, it is divvyed up into segments that could almost work as classic Peanuts specials in their own right. There isn’t some grand adventure for Charlie Brown to go on or anything major at stake here.
It’s just Charlie Brown dealing with the same problems and insecurities he’s always dealt with, and as an adaptation that’s all we could really ask for. Like Schulz’s original comics, it’s all about the little foibles of childhood and treating them as if they’re some sort of adventure, just like did as kids. There has thankfully been no attempt to modernise and the world is still as timeless as ever; everyone still uses landline phones, nobody talks about social media, and there are absolutely no modern pop culture references.
It’s a film ready to stand the test of time by, like all great stories, being told completely out of time, and its messages are applicable to all kids and even anyone who remembers being one. It doesn’t have much of deeper morals than ‘be yourself’ and ‘don’t let people get you down’, but it goes about telling those messages in such a heartfelt and honest way that it should resonate even with adults; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a tiny bit teary-eyed.
With the exception of Kristen Chenoweth in the minor role of Snoopy’s imaginary girlfriend Fifi, there are no famous voices in The Peanuts Movie and the child cast brought together to bring these classic characters back to life is wonderful across the board. It’s hard to find a good child actor, and in animation it’d be so easy just to cast a bunch of adults doing kid voices, but they haven’t and it adds much more authenticity that way.
Noah Schnapp’s Charlie Brown is appropriately downtrodden but sympathetic, never feeling false in his moments of despair even when tasked with Schulz’s classic comedically complex dialogue. The entire supporting cast is great whether in pivotal or minor roles, but special mention must go to Venus Schulteis’ exuberant and dumbfounded performance as Peppermint Patty and Francesca Capaldi making the most out of her brief dialogue as the target of Charlie’s affections.
Sound bites of the late Bill Melendez have been utilised to voice the characters of Snoopy and Woodstock and it all feels seamless; given the gargantuan amount of Peanuts specials over the years, it’s not like they were short on material. What really sells The Peanuts Movie beyond getting the spirit right is the loving way Schulz’s drawings have been recreated in 3-D animation.
Much like how The LEGO Movie imitated the animation of a brickmation film, The Peanuts Movie has the same choppy animation frames and simplistic designs as the old specials. Though certain sequences are far more elaborate than anything from classic Peanuts, especially the Red Baron scenes, it’s still a delightfully charming effect that immediately brings a strong feeling of nostalgia to the eyes.
There are certain parts of the movie such as Charlie’s daydreams that utilise the classic hand-drawn animation, but I’m sure even the most diehard Peanuts fan won’t be disappointed with the overall design of the film. Christophe Beck’s score is sweet and befitting of the film’s tone that also uses classic Peanuts themes like “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here” to fun effect, and even the Meghan Trainor song “Better When I’m Dancin’” that’s played a couple of times throughout the film (the only modern element of the picture) surprisingly doesn’t distract from the film’s anachronistic world and even compliments the overall message.
The Peanuts Movie is this year’s Paddington: an adaptation of a childhood classic that could have easily been a disgrace to the property but is instead a loving tribute. It achieves excellence by knowing exactly what it is and not trying to be anything other than itself. The story is simplistic but executed perfectly, with enough heart and charm to make even the grumpiest of viewers crack a smile.
It really is a nostalgia bomb of a movie whether you’re a Peanuts fan or just someone who has fond memories of being a kid, and I’m sure generations of children to come will acclimate to this film as many generations past have come to love the original stories.