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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Peanuts update animation without straying from lore

"The Peanuts Movie"

Directed by Steve Martino

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Generations of children have grown up on this and other Peanuts specials. Snoopy and Charlie Brown have entered popular culture, but there has been very little new Peanuts media since Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, died in 2000. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, and the 15th anniversary of Schulz’s death, 20th Century Fox presents “The Peanuts Movie,” a light but largely derivative film that adds little to Peanuts’ lore other than an animation update.

The plot of the film is split between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Charlie Brown is practicing his pitching — and failing miserably — when one day a new student moves in next door. Charlie Brown soon finds himself hopelessly in love with his neighbor, a little redheaded girl whose name is never stated, but he believes she does not know he exists. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown’s faithful beagle Snoopy finds a typewriter and begins to write the stories of the World War I Flying Ace and his rival, the legendary Red Baron. The film jumps between Charlie Brown’s attempts to win the affection of The Little Red-Haired Girl and Snoopy’s attempts to defeat the Red Baron.

The plot, as expected, is simple. The Flying Ace segments can drag on, as the action is not especially gripping. The Charlie Brown unrequited love segments can also drag a bit, and sadly the two segments can only balance each other so much. Despite being nearly 93 minutes long, “The Peanuts Movie” feels much longer. This is largely because the plot hardly develops through the second act.

What “The Peanuts Movie” lacks in plot, it makes up for in charm. Seeing the gang together on screen is intrinsically pleasant. The music is mostly made up of Vince Guaraldi’s score, and the music and animation combine masterfully. The voice acting is surprisingly very good. The cast is primarily made up of kids, and the kids sound similar to how the characters have always sounded. Snoopy and Woodstock’s voices are made up of stock sounds from old Peanuts specials. The two sources of dialogue mesh seamlessly together, and the kids’ voices feel familiar but are not carbon copies of what has previously been done. That being said, the film could have stood to add more original ideas.

The unequivocal strength of “The Peanuts Movie” is the animation. Schulz’s original drawings are so iconic that it would be nigh-impossible to replicate them. The film does not attempt to duplicate these drawings, but instead modernizes and honors them. The CGI animation propels the gang into 3-D, but it does not abandon the comics’ roots. The animations are not slick. The characters walking is a little choppy. Eyebrows appear drawn in pencil. The characters are a bit bulbous, yet still keep their mannerisms, despite the 3-D shift. This effect bridges nostalgia and charm. The film is also colorful, and it switches its palette often enough to remain interesting. Every shot is bright and beautiful.

When viewing “The Peanuts Movie,” it is difficult to shake the feeling that this is anything but a complete waste of time. The film adds nothing to Peanuts lore. When The Little Red-Haired Girl first moves in, Linus mentions that he hopes she will appreciate the Great Pumpkin. This kind of allusion, while cute, is nothing more than a reference to something that has already been done. Later in the film, some characters are shown singing Christmas carols, and it only serves to reference the Peanuts of old. At a dance, Snoopy unexpectedly kisses Lucy, and Lucy screams, “I’ve been kissed by a dog!” and continues to rant about her utter disgust. The gag is humorous, but these lines have been directly lifted from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” No additional lines have been added, and when she finishes, the scene simply cuts away. What should be a fun reference instead comes off as distracting.

The film plays it too safe with the Peanuts characters. It’s a delight seeing Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Pig-Pen on the big screen. Unfortunately, all of them are given little to do. The film is hyper-concentrated on remaining loyal to the original Peanuts special, and loyal it is. Charlie Brown is a loveable loser, and Lucy is overprotective and annoying. The characters are all here, but they do nothing that has not been seen before.

“The Peanuts Movie” is very pleasant, and it will spur nostalgia for the classic Peanuts specials. Snoopy is adorable, and Charlie Brown is relatable. The movie has some laughs and looks gorgeous, but does nothing new with the property. What could have been a reboot for the Peanuts is instead a retread.