On December 6th, 1965, an animated Christmas cartoon premiered on CBS Television that would be the first screen adaptation of a beloved comic strip. This would then cause said comic to evolve into a multimedia powerhouse that is considered by many to be a classic in the world of pop culture. Not bad for a bald kid, his friends, and his dog. I am of course talking about Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. Considered by many to be one of the greatest comic strips ever made, Peanuts has won the hearts of millions of over the decades with not only great humour, but its handling of sensitive subject matter while still being appropriate for all ages. 2015 in particular, holds a special place in Peanuts history, as it is not only the 65th anniversary of the first published strip, but the 50th of A Charlie Brown Christmas. So what better way to celebrate than to bring the Peanuts gang back to the silver screen with The Peanuts Movie. But, even though the film certainly brings lots of nostalgia and laughs for the kids, it has enough flaws worthy of a movie about Charlie Brown.
Probably the biggest elephant in the room for most people is the fact the film isn’t a traditionally animated feature, but follows the status quo and is done in 3D. While the movie is a computer animated film and technically in three dimensions, each scene is cleverly crafted to shown in an almost 2D perspective. That’s not to say it doesn’t move along the Z-axis, but I give the film credit for being very intelligent about its cinematography, not that it usually matters in a kid’s film. Through the use of perspective and attention to details, The Peanuts Movie is possibly one of the better-looking films of the year. It’s no Lego Movie or Pixar masterpiece, but for what it sets out to do it does so admirably.
That said while I would argue that while the film is certainly pretty, the story is both the movie’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. I mentioned earlier that film is all about nostalgia, and it does this in droves. If you’re like me and grew up on The Peanuts comics and cartoons, pretty much every aspect of the film is drawn out from a previous Peanut special or story. This results in a slightly patch work plot that is thankfully isn’t drawn on for too long. There’s two plotlines: Charlie Brown and his attempt to redefine his image to impress the Red-Haired Girl who’s just moved to town, and Snoopy as The World-War One Flying Ace. The first story works, the second story doesn’t and manages to make Snoopy; a fan favourite, into a boring and overused character. The Flying Ace storyline works for a younger audience, but that’s about it. Snoopy thankfully shines in other areas of the movie, but those unfortunately have much less screen time.
Still, Charlie Brown’s stumbles and struggles with reinventing himself is more than enough to keep both fans of the Peanuts and kids entertained for the duration of the film. This is where the nostalgia is brought in to both give us familiar ideas, but also tweak them just enough to be fresh. These ideas combine with a solid script to bring that wonderful Peanuts charm that so many of us are familiar with. There’s enough slapstick to entertain the youngest of audiences, but the dialogue is sharp enough with kids referencing “diversified portfolios” and butchering Leo Tolstoy as “Leo’s Toy Store” to make us grown-ups laugh too. Where nostalgia also comes through is the music, which for the most part is a throw back to the classic jazz that The franchise is known for. The franchise is not however known for the pop song that is the movie’s “theme song.” I don’t care if it’s 2015 and it’s catchy; it doesn’t belong here.
I should also mention that the gang is all here, and, for the most part, I wish they played a bigger role. It’s not that Lucy or Linus isn’t relevant to the story, it just feels that less time could have been spent on Snoopy and more could have been spent on the other characters. Perhaps if the film does well enough for a sequel, they’ll get an expanded role.
In the end, if you’re a parent with young kids, or perhaps kids who have never seen a Peanuts special, then you should take them to see The Peanuts Movie. If you’re like me and grew up watching/reading The Peanuts as a kid, then there’s enough nostalgia and jokes make you smile before the credits roll. But if you are none of those things, there lies the problem. If you’re curious by all means go see the movie, but if you’re not I can’t recommend it to you. It’s a cut above your average kid’s flick, fun for the whole family if you will. But it’s also juvenile enough that an adult might get bored of it immediately. Still, I think the film is one this year’s better-animated films, and I certainly hope that this is a fresh start that both Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang deserve.