In every single group of new kids thrown into an elementary school class, there is always a Charlie Brown. A kid who just doesn’t mix with the pack of already wildly unformed personalties that would give anything to be seen as “normal” as they are. This was as true sixty five years ago as it is today, which is why we’re still drawing from these brilliant Charles M. Schulz comic strips. Anybody with a pen and a loud voice can potentially make cartoons that entertain children for a time, but none have quite entered into the mind of a child quite as wonderfully as Schulz. As such, creating any new version of Peanuts is an order much taller than any of it’s pint sized heroes. The Peanuts Movie seems hyper aware of this, and instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, they’ve decided to have faith that an utterly loyal adaptation will come across just as potently for a new generation based on the strength of the material alone.
The film begins just as many Peanuts stories have before. The entire gang is excited about the snowy weather freeing them from school so they can ice skate, but eternal block-head Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) has other plans. Today will be the day he gets his kite to fly. Perhaps not choosing the best conditions for such a confident run, he humiliates himself once again. However, soon after he and the other kids notice a moving truck driving into their neighborhood. Inside is The Little Red Haired Girl (Francesca Angelucci Capaldi) whom Charlie develops a borderline delirious crush on, and wouldn’t you know it, She moves right next door to him. Charlie desperately tries to form a plan to get the girl’s attention, each of which come with more and more dismay from the ever consistent gang.
The greatest success of this film is how wonderfully it captures the tone of the original Peanuts cartoons. It would be very easy to veer new versions of these characters into overtly mean spirited territory. Perhaps even worse, the film could have softened them up in belief that this current crop of kids would be upset and confused by animated characters who look like them being cruel to each other. No such folly here. The screenplay by Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano perfectly re-creates the essence of these characters, from their personalities, to the childlike way each of them speaks. There isn’t a moment where these characters don’t feel real kids, and while they certainly rag on each other quite a bit, there’s an unspoken love they all have for each other that gets to take center stage in this story. While there certainly are some very classic Schulz moments of slowly forming cynicism, there’s an equal amount of tenderness, especially as the film comes to a close.
It also helps that for once in an animated film, the actors voicing the kids aren’t going home to pay their taxes after they finish the recording session. While it was certainly a risk to use a completely child-filled cast, it ends up being what really brings these characters to life. It gives that extra dose of authenticity to the writing, which makes a great of the dialogue in here very funny indeed. While all the performances are strong, particular props go to young Noah Schnapp as Charlie, who carries Charlie through a great deal of emotions whilst being completely likable. There have been certain interpretations of Charlie Brown that make him a bit too much of a downer for his own good, but this one has just the right balance of optimism and despair.
The film is also quite a looker, with lush animation that brings the comic strips to life with a unique style that I’ve never quite seen before. It would have been such a mistake to try and take these characters into full 3D, as so much of the charm of the Peanuts comes from just how simple looking it is. This half and half aesthetic provides the best of both worlds, keeping the simple hand-drawn feel intact, while providing a greater range of motion for the more hyper-active sequences. In fact, the only times that the film really falters are when it seems that the animators get a little bored with the gang, and take Snoopy on one of his many Red Baron adventures. While they’re certainly fun to look at, they get a little exhausting when the clearly more interesting story lies with the characters who can say more than just a loud yelp. With that said, the Red Baron stuff is an integral part of Peanuts, so even this isn’t a major hold-up.
The Peanuts Movie is about as successful a modern reboot of this property as could have been done. It ushers the gang into a new era without betraying what made them such icons in the first place, while further layering them as characters that could carry in a franchise to come. While it perhaps could have been more ambitious in the story department, rehashing some of what’s been done before, it’s clearly not aiming to create any major shake-ups. It’s a film as warm and satisfying as the first sip of coffee taken while reading the Sunday comics, and frankly, that makes it a good man in my book.
Let’s see… 912, 913, 914, Good Grief! I’ve still got seventy six words to go.