A year ago, I was watching The Today Show before dropping my son off at preschool. That day, the show featured the kids who voiced the Peanuts characters in the new movie, which was due in November 2015. I mentally marked my calendar for the event, knowing that my oldest son’s birthday was right around that time. It would be the perfect birthday party excursion: take my sons and their cousins (plus enough adults to manage them all) to the movies. Bonus: I get to see The Peanuts Movie.
For many of us, the Peanuts characters are iconic, ingrained in our childhoods in some way. Yearly viewings of the holiday specials, like The Great Pumpkin at Halloween and A Charlie Brown Christmas during the Christmas season, defined the last part of every year. My kids are now discovering all of these things, begging me to let them watch Snoopy and naming most of the characters when they see them in books. Sharing the experience of watching these specials with my kids has been one of those winning perks of parenthood. I looked forward to the movie as being a continuation of that, a moment to share these beloved characters with my kids and, at the same time, be charmed yet again by these voices from my childhood.
The Peanuts Movie runs about ninety-two minutes, which is pretty much the limit of how long my kids will sit still for anything, even something as engrossing as a movie. However, the theatre we went to slapped about 7-10 minutes of trailers and commercials to the front end and I was not happy with that. Honestly, it’s a kids’ movie; get to the movie part, please. That’s not the movie’s fault, though, and, happily, once we get to the movie, my kids smiled and sat back. Ah, bliss. Quiet and still kids in a movie theatre. Score one for my kids getting older (they’re four and eight)!
The movie opens with an introduction to the ample cast of characters, specifically focusing on Charlie Brown and his reputation as trying really hard and falling short nonetheless. The opening is done naturally and is suited for audiences who might not be familiar with the franchise and the faces within it. If you’re familiar with everyone, it might feel like they’re just trying to make sure every character is included, but it’s done in a way that’s seamless and probably not noticeable unless you’re me. The premise of the movie’s two story arcs are established early, which is good as it would be very easy to get wrapped up in the nostalgia and rehash previous beloved scenes from Peanuts cartoons. One arc focuses on Charlie Brown and the elusive unnamed red-haired girl and the other on Snoopy and his eternal pursuit of the Red Baron. Both might be familiar stories for those who grew up with Charles Schultz and the comics, but I don’t remember Schultz ever going into this much depth both in print and on screen, at least with Charlie Brown and his relationship with the red-haired little girl. The story goes back and forth between Charlie Brown’s and Snoopy’s storyarcs, but Charlie Brown’s carries the majority of the film.
In the process of trying to get the attention of the red-haired girl, Charlie Brown attempts to evolve in order to become someone he feels she would want to know. Though, at times, it feels like the story starts to divert from this, everything goes back to that in the end. The lessons he learns throughout are appropriate for a majority of children and adorably inspirational: he mistakenly earns an award at one point, but, instead of keeping it, he tells the truth and gives it back. That moment is an example of stuff you might be telling your kids day-to-day, but the filmmakers illustrate this simple act of honesty and show how Charlie Brown is ultimately rewarded for it. Snoopy’s arc of his pursuit of the Red Baron is basically comic relief, entertaining but separate from Charlie Brown. Snoopy’s story is complete despite its separation from the main plot of the story and did provide plenty of giggles for the short people around me.
If you’re a fan of Charlie Brown’s peripheral characters, such as Lucy, Linus, Sally, and more, you will see plenty of them, but the story remains focused on Charlie Brown. They are not relegated to the background necessarily, but the film doesn’t have time to develop many secondary stories beyond that of Snoopy’s. Charlie Brown’s relationship with the film’s other characters, outside of his dog, relies on familiar characterization and moments from the many animated specials. If you grew up with the Peanuts gang, you’ll recognize conversations and movements that are part of these characters, but someone unfamiliar might not get all of the little extras that the filmmakers threw in.
Another area that I feel I have to address is the animation. I did hear a bit of whining about the idea that the film would be digitally animated on the tubes when Blue Sky announced the film. The Peanuts Movie incorporates elements of the traditional animated and print formats of the characters, to the point that the fact that this is digitally animated blends seamlessly with the 2-D style we are accustomed to. The colors are clean and bright and the animators do not overdo the capabilities of digital animation. The look is fun and appealing to both adults and kids alike.
Overall, the film was fun for everyone in our party, which included my parents as well as my sons and my nieces and nephews. I certainly laughed in plenty of places and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting these characters. I would definitely recommend seeing this one with your kiddos and then, possibly, sneaking away without them to see it again, just for the kid you were back when you first saw Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
Rating: 5 SHIELDS!
Have you seen The Peanuts Movie or do you plan to watch it? What did you think? What’s your favorite memory of the the Peanuts gang? Let me know in the comments.