The Simple Joy of ‘The Peanuts Movie’

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Franklin, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Sally, Snoopy and Charlie Brown all appear in The Peanuts Movie.

James Mason, Movie Critic

Hard to believe, but it’s been 50 years since A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered on cable. It’s also been 35 years since the Peanuts gang last saw the big screen with Bon Voyage Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!). Yet they still feel fresh and relevant.

Why? Because there’s a reason they show the Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving specials every year; they’re timeless.

Entire generations are raised watching the chronically down-on-his-luck Charlie Brown and his friends. He can never catch a break, and the world always seems to out to get him. Maybe that’s why so many people can relate to him. Next to Mickey Mouse, he’s probably the most recognisable cartoon character of all time. So if he’s so iconic and beloved, it only makes sense that a new movie has been made about him.

Making this movie, however, was not as easy as it seems. Peanuts movies were never a big box office draw (A Boy Named Charlie Brown earned the most, a whopping $6 million). Plus, Bill Melendez (producer and voice of Snoopy and Woodstock) and Charles Schultz (writer and creator of Peanuts) are both deceased. So creating a new movie that both honored its creators and satisfied its fan base was kind of a tricky feat.

Blue Sky’s Studio decided they were up for the task, which is either a good or bad thing depending on one’s tolerance for the Ice Age and Rio movies. Having Schultz’s son and grandson co-write and co-produce the movie seemed like a good idea. Animating it digitally and in 3D seemed like a fatal mistake.

However, The Peanuts Movie did a good job at capturing the spirit and humor of the original specials. Instead of being like the Alvin and the Chipmunks or The Smurfs movies, The Peanuts Movie doesn’t try to modernize the characters and bring them to live action. It sticks to their roots of simple animation. Similar to how the The LEGO Movie uses digital animation to look like stop motion, The Peanuts Movie uses digital animation to look like the 2-dimensional cartoon. It may be a little simple to look at and deliberately choppy, but it’s also colorful and gorgeous.

Like the other Peanuts movies, there’s really no real plot, per-say. The Little Red-Haired Girl moves into the neighborhood, so most of the movie is about Charlie Brown trying to get her to notice him. But even that isn’t really a main focus. Fans will recognize all the familiar beats between plot points — Schroder playing the piano with Lucy resting on top, the kids ice skating and doing weird dances, the kite-eating tree, parents sounding like trombones. All the famous gags are on display here, but they still manage to get laughs instead of feeling forced. After all, Peanuts was a comic strip for 50 years where they all did the same thing. Why should they change now?

Another famous gag is Snoopy and his never ending battle with the Red Baron, which ends up being a major subplot for the whole movie. This could have been overkill, to keep using the same joke over and over, but it ended up becoming funnier and funnier every time. Just when the movie starts to give it a rest, BAM, the Red Baron attacks Snoopy again. Some things just never end.

It’s a brief movie, clocking in at 88 minutes. But brevity works in its favor. It’s short, sweet, and simple. And it’s nice to see a kids movie where the kids aren’t glued to TV’s and iPad screens. When it snows, they go out and ice skate. When it’s sunny, they play baseball. It reminds us that the best thing a kid can do is go outside and be a kid.

If Melendez and Schultz were alive today, both would be happy with The Peanuts Movie.

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