Much care needed to be taken when bringing Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts gang to the big screen. The comic strip and subsequent television specials were microcosms of the world viewed from the eyes of a child, free of snark or cynicism. So when it was announced that there would be such a thing as The Peanuts Movie, worries were high that Schulz’s legacy would be tarnished. Advertising that proudly boasted that the film was “from the creators of Ice Age and Rio” did not inspire much confidence.
Fear not, for The Peanuts Movie is an absolute delight!
Consider how shallow and soulless many recent cartoon-to-film adaptations of beloved properties have been: The Smurfs, Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks. The Peanuts Movie is different from those products in that it doesn’t pander to its audience, nor does it appeal to the lowest common denominator by inserting poop jokes, product placement, or modern-day slang. Like its source material, it’s good-natured through and through. And in an age where the G rating hardly exists anymore, it’s commendable that Peanuts remains something that the entire family can enjoy together.
The story is slight. It involves loveable loser Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) trying in vain to overcome his deficiencies in order to win the affections of the new girl in class. Not particularly earth-shattering storytelling here, but the film’s unassuming stakes and laid-back pace—keeping in the tradition of the television specials—is somewhat refreshing. Kids will have a blast with the slapstick antics of that sly beagle Snoopy, and adults who grew up on Peanuts will no doubt be overcome by crashing waves of nostalgia.
However, that nostalgia is a double-edged sword. In trying to please die-hards while also attempting to initiate newcomers, screenwriters Craig Schulz (Charles’ son) and Bryan Schulz (Charles’ grandson) occasionally lift scenes and dialogue wholesale from past Peanuts lore. Everyone loves that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when, after being licked by Snoopy, fussbudget Lucy Van Pelt screams, “Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get hot water! Get some disinfectant! Get some iodine!” That same moment is repeated in The Peanuts Movie. Twice. Fan service is not always a bad thing, but there is a way to include what fans love about the property without cutting and pasting some of its most iconic scenes.
Of course, this is a small complaint to be made when the movie as a whole is just so gosh-darn charming. It’s lovingly made, with the spirit of the strip and its characters fully intact. It’s beautifully animated, taking advantage of today’s 3D technology without losing Schulz’s endearingly untidy, two-dimensional animation style. And, probably most importantly, it has a big, beating heart. We cheer for Charlie Brown when he succeeds. We ache for him when he doesn’t. He may not be able to fly that kite or kick that football, but for 65 years, he’s never stopped trying. Let’s hope he never does.