WRITTEN REVIEW – Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
Directed by: Steve Martino
Written by: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz & Cornelius Uliano
Starring: Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi & Venus Omega Schultheis
Music: Christophe Beck
Release Date: December 21st 2015
Back in the olden days before fancy computers, the world wide web and mobile telephones there were daily, four-panel comic strips that were printed in newspapers and magazines to help entertain readers. One of, if not THE, most influential comic strip of all time was “Peanuts” written and drawn by Charles M. Schulz which ran in numerous publications from 1950 to 2000 and ended with the death of Charles whose family didn’t want “Peanuts” to be in the hands of any other writer. At its peak, “Peanuts” ran in 2,600 newspapers with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries in 21 languages.
While the series has had stints outside the comic-strips before, most notably a theatrical musical production in 1967 (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) and award-winning TV specials (1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and 1966’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”) as well as some posthumous animated specials written by Charles M. Schulz in the 2000s. His family, still being adamant that no one except a Schulz continue the “Peanuts” legacy, have come together to write a feature-length movie for modern audiences. Written by Schulz’s son and grandson, ‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie‘ comes to us from the movie studio behind the “Ice Age” movies; Blue Sky Studios. Can Charlie Brown and Snoopy still resonate with a modern audience or will modern-day trappings negate the old-fashion charm of the material?
Set in a small town over the course of a school year, Charlie Brown (Schnapp) is a nervous, meek boy with a crippling lack of self-confidence. However, he sees the opportunity for a fresh start when a Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) moves in across the road from him and Charlie Brown instantly becomes smitten with her. Charlie Brown needs to find what makes him special in order to find a way to impress her and seeks the help of his loyal dog, Snoopy (Melendez) who is trying to create his own imaginary adventures fighting the villainous Red Baron.
First things first, ‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie‘ opens with a short-film promoting Blue Sky Studios’ upcoming ‘Ice Age: Collision Course‘ named ‘Cosmic Scrat-tastrophe‘ following Scrat try to get his Acorn back once he goes into space. The short itself is…basically just 5 minutes of pure white noise and it genuinely hurt my eyes to watch because it was so fast, nonsensical and desperately reaching for any sort of slapstick no matter how well it actually fit into the context of the “Ice Age” franchise. Not a good start to the theatrical experience.
While Blue Sky Studios’ adaptations of Dr. Seuss material has often felted bloated, noisy and often a betrayal of the author’s original works, ‘The Peanuts Movie‘ is in safe hands with writers who fundamentally understand the characters. We’ve seen recent film adaptations where otherwise humble and down-to-earth characters have to save the world from armies of clone-robots (the ACTUAL plots of ‘Postman Pat: The Movie‘ and ‘Top Cat: The Movie‘) but here we have what amounts to a feature length Charles M. Schulz’ comic-strip, for better or for worse.
The strips weren’t built on excessive slapstick or grand plots but on dry observational humour and representing the mind-set of a child and ‘The Peanuts Movie‘ is faithful in this respect, for the most part. The movie even opens with a “Snow Day” being an absolute miracle to children of this age, we see how children literally count-down to Summer and how a book-report can be a mind-boggling endeavour. ‘The Peanuts‘ movie doesn’t stress itself too much on a plot as Charlie Brown trying to win the affections of the Little Red-Haired Girl is more of a narrative through-line that allows short vignettes to happen. It’s essentially three half-hour specials back-to-back; “Charlie Brown at the Talent Show”, “Charlie Brown becomes famous” and “Charlie Brown and the Book Report” (those are titles I just made up, before you Google them).
Speaking of Google, while no time-period is ever stated, “Peanuts” seems to be set in a world where it’s perpetually 1950 and the movie follows suit. It took a moment for me to realise that the children were actually using rotary phones when I saw the movie and the children go to the local library to check out books for school. There’s no hint at “that scene” where Charlie Brown uses an iPhone, instead he flies a kite, he and his friends play hockey outside and interact with each other in person. And of course, Snoopy still writes adventures on a typewriter.
I wonder if any of the kids in my screening even knew what that device even was.
Speaking of those adventures, there are frequent interludes where Snoopy writes up imaginary adventures of him flying around on top of his doghouse trying to save a damsel in distress from the “Red Baron” in World War 2 style, aerial dogfights. As fun as these interludes can be, I think it speaks volumes as to the charm and quality of the grounded “real” aspects of the film that you’d rather see if Charlie Brown can get over his personal issues instead of these imaginary adventures that have no bearing on the actual story at hand. It also gives the movie a stop-start-stop-start pace and by the time the FIFTH “Red Baron” sequence came along, I actually got kinda sick of the constant interruptions.
To be fair, that’s because the tone of the movie outside of these sequences is so charming and the characters we all know and love have been faithfully recreated here. Schroeder still plays a toy piano, Lucy is still a little brat offering psychiatric help for 5¢, Peppermint Patty is still a tom-boy with her faithful friend Marcie calling her “Sir” for unknown reasons, Linus is the heartfelt voice-of-reason with a security blanket, Pig-Pen is still smelly but well-meaning and Charlie Brown is still a wonderful protagonist. It’s admirable to watch him fail because he still keeps trying and he’s almost kind to a fault as he gives up an opportunity to impress everyone at school in a talent show so he can help out his younger Sister.
Charlie Brown is basically that insecure child within all of us that wants to do the right thing despite personal sacrifice. The boy who can’t kick a ball, who can’t fly a kite no matter how hard he tries, who can’t muster up the courage to talk to someone he “likes”, but when faced with adversity will try his hardest. For example, he’s able to read Leo Tolstoy’s 1,200+ page epic novel “War and Peace” in a weekend for his book-report demonstrating that he has unlimited potential, so it’s nice to see him try and fulfil it, even if his own crippling self-doubt gets in the way. But that’s why we’ve loved Charlie Brown for more than half a century and continue to love him today.
That being said, those who have read a handful of the comic strips or watched any of the TV specials won’t find much new ground being broken here. Obviously that’s the point of this movie, but the lessons being instilled in this movie are ones that have been told and re-told throughout the history of the franchise. It also feels like a missed opportunity to make the movie an ensemble piece as we don’t see much outside of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Schroeder, Pig-Pen and Franklin get essentially nothing to do and we could always do with more Linus.
As for Charles Schultz’s original art-style, it’s faithfully re-created here complete with a lower-frame rate than most animated films and even “speed-lines” when characters move quickly. It’s a few notches above animated fare like “South Park” where distinctly 2-D characters inhabit a 3-D space but it works on the big-screen and the colours pop beautifully on screen. The “Red Baron” sequences are animated well, but it’s clear that they’re mainly there to offer spectacle. However, the action doesn’t quite live up to the animated competition and don’t engage that much.
The voice-acting is a high-point for the franchise. While many could argue that the deliberate low-quality of the voice acting in previous animated specials is part of the charm, it wouldn’t have worked for a 21st century, big-budget re-imagining and everyone is cast well. They even managed to revive the late Bill Melendez to voice Snoopy and Woodstock using archive recordings and the adults still make trombone noises. Composer Christoph Beck does good work remixing and remaking Vince Guaraldi’s works and it’s the finishing touch to make ‘The Peanuts Movie‘ movie FEEL like a “Peanuts” movie.
‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie‘ accomplishes exactly what it sets out to; honour the characters and legacy of Charles Schulz. This isn’t a re imagining, or a reboot or a modernising and anyone looking for an evolution will leave disappointed. But anyone who loves the characters, or a modest production that instils encouraging values to children will find lots of charm here from the animation, the relatable scenarios and the dry observations that made the daily-strips successful in the first place. If you’ve watched the TV specials or read the comic strips, there isn’t much new here and there aren’t huge laughs to be had, but constant smiles and lots of heart. Those smiles can turn into frustration due to the “Red Baron” always getting in the way, but ‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie‘ is a home-run success on its own terms.
I give ‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 21st Dec 15