Memories, Innovations, and a Whole Lot of Snoopy

The opening scene of Blue Sky Studios’ The Peanuts Movie begins with four black lines outlining the edge of the screen, magically creating the borders of a comic strip. Inside this box several small circles are drawn. From these simple lines, it seamlessly transitions to a 3D winterscape, somehow maintaining the look and feel of a comic strip. The characters are painstakingly replicated, staying true to the five-decade comic strip from which they originate. I was consistently surprised by how accurately the characters’ expressions were reflected in 3D. In short, the movie remains ‘authentically Peanuts,’ from beginning to end.

Growing up, while most kids were watching television, I was flipping through my mom’s autographed collections of Peanuts comic strips. I have read every strip many times and know the characters inside and out. So when I heard about The Peanuts Movie, I worried it might not remain faithful to the comic strip I loved for so long. Thankfully, Blue Sky Studios has produced a great Peanuts movie.

The storyline of The Peanuts Movie should be familiar to fans of the comic strip—a lighthearted tale centered on a lovable boy, Charlie Brown, and his dog Snoopy. Charlie Brown is an average kid, not particularly athletic nor exceptionally good in school, and yet known for his big heart. Snoopy, on the other hand, is a truly remarkable dog. While he can’t speak, Snoopy is capable of doing everything a human can do and has a vivid imagination to boot. For instance, large portions of the comic strip—which are also included in the movie—portray Snoopy as a hockey player, a soldier, and even a World War I flying ace. These moments provide an exhilarating and charming secondary storyline to Charlie Brown’s childhood adventures.

The main plot revolves around Charlie Brown falling in love with his new classmate, known simply as “the little red-haired girl.” Charlie Brown is concerned that, since he is a failure, this girl will not like him in return. His confidence is boosted when his class takes a standardized test and he miraculously receives the highest score—the first perfect score in the school’s history. The movie explores his classmates’ reaction to his newfound brilliance and also how Charlie Brown’s accomplishment boosts his own self-confidence. Though somewhat predictable, The Peanuts Movie is ultimately a simple yet heart-warming, family friendly coming of age story.

More importantly, to longtime fans at least, this movie actually feels as if you are experiencing Peanuts as Charles Schulz intended. It feels comfortable, like visiting an old friend after many years apart. The characters ring true in their characteristic trademark phrases and decisions, while visually the film is nothing short of stunning. Blue Sky Studios worked closely with Jean Shultz, the late Charles Shultz’s wife, to make certain his vision of Peanuts was preserved. That patient care is evident everywhere.

There are a couple small flaws. Though most of the voice performances are spot on, a number of the characters—notably, Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp)—do not sound like the previous animated movies of the comic strip, nor even remotely like the voices I imagined when I read the comics many years ago. Most viewers of The Peanuts Movie, especially its young target audience, will likely have no issue with the unfamiliarity of the voices. But to me Noah Schnapp sounds too much like a real kid to sound like Charlie Brown.  Peanuts has historically been a comic wherein children have had to deal with and react to life as an adult might, with of all its challenges and successes. By making Charlie Brown sound too much like a kid, the thought that Charles Shulz might be speaking to us directly is lost and with it much of the social commentary that the comic provides. In addition to the issues with the voice acting, there is one obvious visual oversight which happens during a book report writing scene at Charlie Brown’s school. Charlie spills an inkwell all over his report (props do stay consistent to the original Peanuts time period) and stains his hands, but just moments later his hands are completely clean though no hand washing occurs on screen. For a movie that is so visually consistent and stunning throughout, I found this continuity error to be more than a little disappointing.

Overall, The Peanuts Movie is a resounding success. It deftly brings Peanuts into the modern 3D visual era while still preserving the beloved comic strip’s simple charm. This movie doesn’t try to break new ground. It doesn’t even try to be complex. Perhaps this is why the characters remain real and relevant, even over 60 years after their creation. The Peanuts Movie is a great film for any age, including diehard fans like myself.

Grade: A                                                                                                                                   This movie is visually stunning while maintaining the honest character of the Peanuts comic strips.

Rating: G                                                                                                                       Because we couldn’t leave it blank.

 The Peanuts Movie, Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox                Runtime: 88 minutes