It’s been a solid year for kids’ movies, from the adorable Paddington, to the super cute Shaun the Sheep, to the headier, more ambitious surrealist stylings of Inside Out. The latest movie for the tot-set is a 3D animated adaptation of Charles Schulz’s ever-popular Peanuts comics, aptly titled The Peanuts Movie. Sandwiched in between the Great Pumpkin and the saddest little Christmas tree in the world, it feels like the right time of year for Charlie Brown, and the movie, perhaps to invoke A Charlie Brown Christmas, takes place during snowy winter. There are a lot of callbacks to previous iterations of Charlie Brown, from a kite-flying opening reminiscent of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, to Kristin Chenoweth—winner of a Tony for You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown—“voicing” Snoopy’s crush object, Fifi.
Adapted for the big screen by Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan Schulz, respectively, with an assist from the amazingly-named Cornelius Uliano, The Peanuts Movie is a sweet, airy take on the classic characters, including Charlie Brown and his sister Sally, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, and Snoopy. Adults are off-screen and make trombone noises, and Snoopy’s voice is culled from the archive of Bill Melendez’s historical recordings, creating another link with previous generations of Peanuts. There’s not so much a story as a series of events, with all the highlights of the Peanuts included—the Little Red-Haired Girl, Lucy and her football, Linus’s sage advice, and Snoopy’s fantasies of being a World War I fighter pilot.
And through it all is Charlie Brown, lovably hapless and anxious, and voiced by actual child Noah Schnapp (Bridge of Spies). With so many kids’ movies voiced by adult performers, it’s refreshing to hear real children’s voices coming from the Peanuts, and the kids, for the most part, sound natural and uncoached. The animation is similarly charming—this is by far the most polished the Peanuts have ever been, but the characters maintain Schulz’s squiggle-mouths and orb-heads, and the animation is a mix of clean background lines and soft, plush textures. The result is that movie looks a little like a mix of construction paper and stuffed animals (in 2D—I didn’t see it in 3D and can’t vouch for the transfer).
The only real drawback is that The Peanuts Movie sacrifices Schulz’s melancholy undertone. Charlie Brown doesn’t have much in the way of philosophical asides, and the morals and lessons are less steeped in adult reality than previous iterations have been. It takes the weight out of the Peanuts—they’re still sweet and appealing, but less memorable. That’s a bummer for adult fans who remember Charlie Brown’s moments of insight, but it likely makes the Peanuts more accessible to the uninitiated who are experiencing Charlie Brown for the first time. It’s just too bad that, like the best of Charlie Brown, The Peanuts Movie couldn’t manage to appeal to both. Still, it’s a charming introduction to young new fans.
(Lainey: Lights. Camera. BEAGLE!)