The new 'Peanuts' movie is like the old 'Peanuts' movies ... which might not be such a good thing
The Peanuts Movie 20th Century Fox
Director: Steve Martino
Screenplay: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz and Cornelius Uliano, based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz
Starring: The voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Venus Schultheis, Alexander Garfin, Rebecca Bloom, A.J. Tecce and Francesca Capaldi
Rated G / 1 hour, 28 minutes
November 6, 2015
(out of four)
It's a nice thought, I suppose. And an inherently contradictory one. Bring back Charles Schulz's classic Peanuts gang for a new feature, one that retains the spirit and visual style of the originals ... while also taking advantage of computer animation and 3D. In the simplest sense, The Peanuts Movie succeeds at that ambition. It does look and feel a lot like the hand-drawn originals (brought to life by Schulz and director Bill Melendez) that became such beloved pop-culture staples.
And yet I wouldn't exactly say it takes advantage of its modern capabilities, either. How could it? The whole movie is predicated on replicating a 1960s hand-drawn aesthetic as closely as possible. The smoother lines, more rounded-out shapes and three-dimensionality of its modern animation are adornments - not a new way of visually expressing a Charlie Brown story. This is aesthetic post-conversion, not rejuvenation. The technique serves its purpose - it feels more natural to a modern audience, without sacrificing certain fundamental qualities that existing fans hold dear. Fine. But it leaves me wondering what, exactly, the purpose is - beyond the simple demographic goal of more easily appealing to a new set of kids.
I had largely the same reaction to this movie as I did to the new Winnie the Pooh four years ago. This is nice enough, but it's nothing we haven't seen from these characters countless times before. It's just a bit shinier and new. Needless to say, individual mileage will vary with a movie like this, which succeeds well enough at something that required very little ambition. Not that I'm clamoring for a radical reinvention of Charlie Brown and Co. (though there'd be nothing wrong with that, either), but if a film is trying to bring a property into the 21st Century, why not actually go for it? If you've nothing new to give us or show us except a more technologically advanced rendition of the same animation style, why even bother?
It's like Chaplin re-releasing his silent The Gold Rush two decades later with that terrible voiceover narration slapped on top to supposedly "take advantage" of the sound era. It was basically the same product - but with the addition of modern devices that were little more than affectations.
The truth is, I probably wouldn't have the same gripe if, on a story level, The Peanuts Movie had any real aspirations. But it doesn't. This is a film blatantly going through the motions. These stories are so well-established that it's almost too easy to slip into auto-pilot. To describe this one is to describe every other Peanuts movie - and even those got old after a while. And so we get another story in which Charlie Brown tries and fails to fly a kite, Charlie Brown tries and fails to talk to a girl, Charlie Brown has the brief taste of success and popularity tugged away from him. Again, this was the filmmakers' intention - to make a new Charlie Brown movie that's like all the other Charlie Brown movies. But at a certain point, you'd have to think that having seen it all before would be a detriment to seeing it all again.
In any case, its here-we-go again story, which has plenty of charms and redundancies to go around, involves the new girl in school - referred to only as The Little Red-Haired Girl - on whom Charlie Brown develops an instant crush. He tries to speak to her but can't; he tries to go to her house across the street and meet her face to face, but chickens out at the last moment.
Those false starts notwithstanding, his crush does inspire him to become a bit more of a go-getter. She likes dancing, so he learns how to dance, hoping a victory in the school dance competition will win her heart. And when the two are miraculously paired together for a book-report assignment, only for her to be called out of town on a family emergency, he realizes he can impress her by writing the entire report himself. The book he chooses is none other than War and Peace.
Sadly, the film itself does not match Charlie Brown's sudden spark of ambition, nor does it have any interest in doing so. And that shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise. The movie is, after all, brought to us by Blue Sky Studios, that factory of harmless, adequate entertainment. The M.O. has been consistent for more than a decade now. Both perfectly decent and perfectly unnecessary, The Peanuts Movie at least gets credit for remaining on-brand.