“Peanuts,” the comic-and-cartoon franchise created by Charles M. Schultz about perpetual loser Charlie Brown and his beagle Snoopy, is getting its first big-screen treatment of the modern era. I have three compliments right off the bat. First, even though it’s a 3-D animated version of 2-D animated characters, there is nothing distractingly cheap or uncanny about the characters’ looks (plus I like the wispy backgrounds). Second, the child characters are all voiced by perfectly-cast actual children. I’ve seen a few recent “Peanuts” cartoons that either use clearly-adult actors, or children who are too much “of their time” to voice the characters who are basically timeless. Fortunately, this film does not fall into the same trap. Third, this is the first major film in over a year to sport an all-ages-appropriate G rating. Even traditionally family-friendly Disney animated movies rarely get that rating anymore. Good for “Peanuts,” boldly playing it squeaky-clean in this day and age.
The plot is made up of multiple mini-stories threaded by Charlie Brown’s desire to woo the Little Red-Haired Girl throughout the school year. Charlie Brown will see an opportunity, try to make the most of it, botch it horribly, and repeat. Escapades include a school dance, a book report on “War and Peace,” and becoming the most popular kid in school following a perfect score on a standardized test (only in the “Peanuts” universe could popularity be correlated to standardized test scores). It all leads up to him chasing after the Little Red-Haired Girl so he can talk to her before she leaves town for the summer. The storyline is based on a “Peanuts” cartoon I saw when I was younger, and I was worried that it would have a similar small-consolation of an ending, but it goes for a more fleshed-out one, and honestly I like it better.
The storylines aren’t all Charlie Brown-centric. There is, naturally, a subplot about Snoopy as a WWI flying ace (complete with a doghouse-plane) at war with the Red Baron. Snoopy, his bird friend Woodstock, his girlfriend Fifi, and all the other animals communicate exclusively with a super-cute series of squeaks and squeals. It’s fun to see Snoopy create all sorts of mischief as the plays out this story amongst Charlie Brown’s friends. It’s fun too to see Snoopy create mischief as he helps Charlie Brown with his own issues. It’s fun to see Snoopy do anything, really.
The only major complaint I have about the movie is the way it tries to wedge in “Peanuts” references that don’t belong. For example, the characters hear that a new kid is moving into town, and sidekick Linus immediately wonders if they have an open mind toward unpopular Halloween icon The Great Pumpkin. There’s no reason for The Great Pumpkin to factor into this scene (or this movie) in any way, but The Great Pumpkin is an important part of “Peanuts” lore, so the movie had to work it in somewhere. This film is filled with awkward little moments like that, getting things in for the sake of getting them in.
“The Peanuts Movie” really only has that one thing going against it, but that isn’t to say that it has a whole lot going for it, either. There are a number of gags that work (pretty much anything with Snoopy, pretty much anything with dancing), but also a lot that land with indifference. The humor is mostly aimed at little kids, the appeal to adults is mostly nostalgia-based, and that has a way of backfiring. If you have young children who you can take to this movie, by all means take them to it, but I don’t see this being one of those one of those movies that adults love just as much as their kids.
“The Peanuts Movie” is rated G. Its running time is 88 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006.
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