Directed by: Steve Martino
Premise: An animated film based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Charlie Brown develops a crush on the new girl in class and he tries to impress her.
What Works: The Peanuts characters are best known from the comic strips of Charles M. Schulz and from the popular television specials that regularly air during the holiday season. Those television programs were produced as traditional hand drawn cartoons but The Peanuts Movie has been made with contemporary computer animation. To its credit, the new film does not try to reinvent the Peanuts gang. All of the familiar characters are here, they retain their personalities and relationships, and the vocal performances are remarkably consistent with earlier incarnations. The filmmakers of The Peanuts Movie generally find a way to style the movie so that it retains the characteristic Peanuts look while allowing for some additional depth and texture. The Peanuts Movie runs just eighty-eight minutes and it is packed with jokes and gags. There is no down time in this movie. The story alternates between Charlie Brown’s attempts to impress The Little Red-Haired Girl (that’s how she’s credited) and Snoopy’s imaginary adventures with the Red Barron. The Peanuts Movie is envisaged as a children’s picture, as opposed to a family movie, and it will hold the attention of young viewers. To its credit, The Peanuts Movie has a genuine good heartedness about it. The film is never cynical or ironic about itself and it provides a nice, albeit simplistic, message about being a decent human being. The Peanuts Movie is refreshingly earnest and that distinguishes it in the movie marketplace.
What Doesn’t: Despite its brief running time, The Peanuts Movie has an awful lot of padding. The plot of this eighty-eight minute feature film is basically the same as that of a twenty-five minute television special but drawn out to fit the feature length. For that matter, a lot of The Peanuts Movie is lifted from those holiday television specials. The story premise of The Peanuts Movie is lifted wholesale from You’re In Love, Charlie Brown, the War and Peace plot point is taken from Happy New Year, Charlie Brown and the Red Barron sequences are right out of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Adult viewers may enjoy picking out the references while the material will seem fresh to their kids. However, the fact is that the bulk of this movie is made of recycled story parts that were presented more succinctly in the shorter television specials. At the same time, The Peanuts Movie lacks the wit of the Halloween special or the heart and gravitas that made A Charlie Brown Christmas such an enduring classic. The film’s lack of impact may be a result of the upgrade to digital animation. The hand drawn cartoons had a charm about them that computer graphics cannot replicate. But the story of The Peanuts Movie will be especially familiar to adults whether they grew up as Peanuts fans for not. The story is every romantic comedy that we’ve ever seen: a nobody wants to impress the new somebody and instead of just talking to her, Charlie Brown puts himself through a series of foolish stunts that are intended to impress the new girl and win her over. This is a kid’s film and perhaps its themes shouldn’t be examined too closely but observant viewers will pick up on The Little Red-Haired Girl’s absence of identity. The filmmakers don’t even show her face for much of the picture; her mystery is part of the point but it also turns her into a female token.
Bottom Line: Young viewers are going to enjoy The Peanuts Movie and it’s tolerable for adults. However, unlike the classic television specials, it is unlikely that this film will become a title that today’s kids share with their own children in years to come.
Episode: #569 (November 15, 2015)