Written by: The Editor
It’s been over 15 years since the great Charles Monroe Schulz left our world. With his death seemingly brought the end to the story of Charlie Brown, the anxious, good-natured boy who stumbled through life’s complexities for nearly 50 years and through 17,897 comic strips that ran in over 2,600 newspapers with a collective readership of 355 million from 75 different countries and in 21 various languages. If only we were so lucky to experience childhood for that long…
Since then, there have been a number of posthumous works, mostly television specials ranging from 2006’s He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown to 2011’s Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. None have been as ambitious or credible as the latest export out of 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios. Produced by Paul Feig and directed by Steve Martino, The Peanuts Movie attempts the impossible by reintroducing the benevolent blockhead into the 21st century while retaining all the elements that made Schulz’s strip so timeless and iconic.
Written by Schultz’ son and grandson, it’s easy to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It keeps with the spirit of the original works while bringing a modern animation style. And thankfully, that’s about the only contemporary feature that this film has. They do a great job of not modernizing the content too much. It doesn’t succumb to fart jokes or modern frivolities. There are no cheap gimmicks to get laughter. It’s just a classy adaptation of the classy source material we grew up loving–even featuring echoes of Vince Guaraldi’s trademark compositions.
There are two simultaneous stories at play in the film: one set in the “real world” of Charlie Brown and his friends, and a more fantastical tale of Snoopy as his alter-ego, the Flying Ace. Seems like Charlie Brown has found a new girl that peaks his interest.
It’s a simple love story, but that’s what Peanuts does so well. They provide us with grandeur lessons through straightforward means. In this case Charlie Brown learns about confidence, being true to himself, and perseverance–lessons that can have just as much impact on the adults watching as it does on their children.
What’s surprising and reassuring is how the film neglects to acknowledge the 21st century. Despite the modern pop inclusions of Nikka Costa, Meghan Trainor, and Flo Rida — a tracklist that initially gave this writer a brush of shingles, but is so tastefully underused it’s hardly worth mentioning — this is the same vintage Peanuts. There aren’t any computers or cell phones; instead, the kids visit libraries and get tangled up in the chords of rotary phones. Granted, a world without social networks might prove alien to youngsters, but they’ll no doubt relate to Charlie’s paralyzing fears in ringing a neighbor’s doorbell or talking to someone new in class. Some things translate forever.
The only time the film slows down is when the Snoopy storyline comes to a close and finishes with a somewhat lengthy finale. The subplot is actually a fun addition to the movie, since each segment only lasts about 45 seconds, but the climax of it all runs for about 4 minutes and slightly takes away from the momentum of the film. The Peanuts Movie continues that tradition by thematically reiterating one of the author’s greatest wisdoms: “Be yourself. No one can say you’re doing it wrong.” That’s advice Schulz most assuredly gave to his son, Craig, and it’s probably something he told his own son, Bryan. Together, they not only paid tribute to those words, but made a story out of it. That’s how you know they got the recipe right. However, this is only a minor hiccup in an otherwise fantastic film.