The Peanuts Movie succeeds at giving the Peanuts property a shiny fresh coat of paint, while keeping its heart and humanist spirit intact.
The Peanuts Movie brings the perennial underdog Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp), his loyal - if trouble-making - dog Snoopy (Bill Melendez), and his many peers to the big screen in computer-animated form. As the story gets underway, Charlie Brown sees a chance to turn around his seemingly endless run of misjudgments and general slip-ups when he becomes smitten with a new student at his school, a.k.a. The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). Charlie Brown in turn sets out to become a "winner", on the advice of his judgmental classmate and "psychiatrist", Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller).
Unfortunately, while Charlie Brown's attempts to become a winner fuel Snoopy's imagination and novel writing, they don't pan out the way good ol' Chuck would like them to. However, with the guidance of his friend Linus (Alexander Garfin), Charlie Brown just might instead come to value himself as he is - and maybe in the process, even find the confidence to speak to the Little Red-Haired Girl at last.
Written by Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz' son and grandson (Craig and Bryan Schulz), and the relative newcomer Cornelius Uliano, The Peanuts Movie carries over the simple, yet still relevant as ever humanist messages of the Peanuts comic strips and 2D cartoons (admittedly, more the latter than the former) - giving rise to a modern big screen adaptation that keeps the soul of the Peanuts property intact, 65 years after it debuted. The Peanuts Movie also intertwines its two central narrative threads - Charlie Brown's efforts to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl and Snoopy's imagined battle with the Red Baron - in an entertaining fashion that enhances their respective thematic substance. All the while, the film keeps its proceedings accessible to the juice box crowd, rather than attempt to cater to adults.
The Peanuts Movie's writers and director, Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who!, Ice Age: Continental Drift), are nonetheless guilty of playing things a little too safe on the whole - giving rise to a story that would've benefited from being a bit more ambitious with its goals. Similarly, whereas Peanuts animated features released in decades past were willing to explore challenging emotional territory (see Snoopy, Come Home or A Boy Named Charlie Brown, for instance), The Peanuts Movie holds back from heading into such poignant storytelling territory. Nevertheless, while The Peanuts Movie is not as substantial as it could have been, it features a story that ought to please youngsters and charm nostalgic adults alike.
Blue Sky Studios (the Ice Age and Rio franchises) has moved the Peanuts property from 2D to 3D with The Peanuts Movie - and thankfully, that transition is a seamless one. The Peanuts Movie successfully adds layers of photo-realistic texture to both the characters and scenery of the Peanuts universe, while at the same time carrying over the Impression stylistic choices and exaggerated cartoon nature of the Peanuts comic strips as well as 2D animated specials past. Characters such as Charlie Brown retain the feeling of being hand-drawn when computer-animated, but also boast the polished appearance and sophisticated design that is commonly associated with digitally-rendered images. Most notably, classic sequences where Snoopy imagines being a fighter pilot in WWI can now be brought to life with greater visual splendor than ever before, but still feel playful and innocent in their execution.
The Peanuts Movie is also exceptionally brightly colored, whether you're watching the film in 2D or 3D. The flying scenes with Snoopy take advantage of the extra depth afforded by 3D the most, while the real-world scenes in the film tend to keep the action more linear (read: in two dimensions) - as such, The Peanuts Movie doesn't offer enough in the way of either immersive and/or pop-out visuals to make 3D viewing necessary if you want to enjoy the full viewing experience offered here. That being said, those who do choose to see The Peanuts Movie in 3D (out of personal preference) won't lose anything since, as mentioned before, the film's light color palette will effectively counter the darkening effect of 3D.
The Peanuts Movie focuses primarily on a small group of Peanuts characters - unlucky Charlie Brown, vain yet insecure Lucy, good-natured Linus, and rascally Snoopy - and all of them remain as relatable and likable as ever, thanks to solid voice acting by the young newcomers behind them. At the same time, the film devotes enough screen time to such players as Charlie Brown's rambunctious sister Sally (Mariel Sheets), tomboyish Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis), bookish Marcie (Rebecca Bloom), and kindly Franklin (Marleik Mar Mar Walker) - among others - for their personalities to shine through; and as far as kid voice actors go, there isn't a weak link in the chain here. Lastly, the use of archived vocal recordings of the late Bill Melendez to bring both Snoopy and his bird companion Woodstock to life pays off well, keeping the animals as expressive and funny as ever.
On the whole, The Peanuts Movie succeeeds at giving the Peanuts property a shiny fresh coat of paint, while keeping its heart and humanist spirit intact. Older Peanuts fans should enjoy the film - while also better appreciating nods to the franchise's past here (with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the work that is most heavily referenced) - and youngsters who have never heard of Charlie Brown before ought to take a liking to the lovable "blockhead", based on what's presented here. It may not break as much fresh ground for the Peanuts property as it could have (perhaps a sequel will?), but The Peanuts Movie is very much a sweet and delightful return to the big screen for Chuck and his pals.
The Peanuts Movie is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 93 minutes long and is Rated G.
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