Daniel Larusso. Rocky Balboa. Katniss Everdeen. If everyone loves an underdog, audiences should champion the original hard luck kid, Charlie Brown, in his latest cinematic outing, The Peanuts Movie.
It’s a new beginning for Good Ol’ Charlie Brown. Based upon the sixty-five year old comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, The Peanuts Movie finds Charlie Brown, and his best friend and dog, Snoopy, in a story of first loves and obsessive pursuits. Tasked with introducing Brown and company to a new generation of viewers who may be foreign to the comic strip, animated specials and series, Met-Life and Dolly Madison commercials, merchandising, and any other Peanuts related media, The Peanuts Movie also renders the Peanuts gang in 3-D animation for the time.
Where The Peanuts Movie succeeds is in its treatment of Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp). He’s simultaneously likable and pitiful, at times painful to watch, but never comes across as deserving of his plight. He’s every crushing childhood insecurity made flesh (sort of) mixed with the sort of optimism that gets murdered by the world somewhere around junior high. For adults, he’s a reminder of that wistful time when there was no such thing as impossible. For kids, he’s the inner voice that pushes. And that’s why audiences will want it to work when Charlie Brown falls in kid love with Little Red-haired Girl from next door, and why they’ll feel every slip, tumble, and pratfall Charlie Brown feels when he repeatedly fails.
Luckily, Charlie Brown has a wingman in the form of his anthropomorphic dog. Snoopy (voiced by classic Peanuts animator, the late Bill Melendez) takes it upon himself to become Charlie Brown’s life coach between fantasies of pursuing his greatest nemesis, the Red Baron, and winning the heart of the French poodle, Fifi (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth). Snoopy retains his place as the spirited, manic fun of the Peanuts, and as the center of the film’s most engaging sequences.
At times, The Peanuts Movie comes off like an uninspired “Greatest Hits” package, making sure to hit all the classic bits, including Vince Guaraldi music cues, man-eating trees, Snoopy’s ability to dance, and Lucy Van Pelt’s psychiatric practice. And unlike the animated specials of yore, the rich character world of Peanuts is left all but unexplored. The focus of the film remains tightly on Charlie Brown and Snoopy, with very little attention given to Lucy and Linus Van Pelt, Sally Brown, or Franklin.
The filmmakers attempt to meld Charles M. Schulz’ linework with conventional 3-D models yielded mixed results. Schulz’s elegantly craggy lines are awkwardly placed upon the smooth and rounded textures of the characters’ heads in what ultimately does a disservice to both styles of art.
In spite of its flaws, The Peanuts Movie has the right amount of heart, hope, and humor for an audience of any age. It’s for anyone who tried and failed, but tried again.
The Peanuts Movie opens on November 6, 2015.