The Peanuts Movie

Posted on November 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles)
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2015
Date Released to DVD: February 29, 2016 ASIN: B018WXLHVM

I admit that I approached this film with some of the same trepidation Charlie Brown approaches the football, knowing Lucy’s history of pulling it out of the way at the last second. I’m a fan of Charles Schultz’s original comic strip and fond of many of the animated specials and features that were careful to preserve the simplicity of his aesthetic. I was concerned that a more fully-animated version (in 3D!) would drown out the gentle storylines. But Schulz’s family has been careful to preserve his legacy. The script is co-written by his son and grandson and is timed to appear on the 65th anniversary of the strip and the 50th anniversary of the classic “Charlie Brown Christmas” special. And Blue Sky (which made the “Ice Age” and “Rio” movies) understands the material and its audiences — the older generations who are attached to the original version and today’s children, who are new to these characters.

The brightly colored, rounded figures were easier to get used to than I feared. The iconic details — Charlie Brown’s yellow shirt with the brown zigzag (it turns out he has a whole closetful) and wisps of hair are familiarly iconic. It’s not a period piece but there is a timeless quality. Phones are corded landlines. We never see a laptop and no one ever checks Google or GPS. Indeed, one of the most important items in the story is a pencil. It has glitter and a feather decorating it, but it also has the teeth marks of its sometimes nervous owner, and that is something you won’t find on a smartphone.

The movie does not commit any serious blunders. There are pleasant moments and welcome echoes of the past, but it does not justify its existence by adding anything of value to the canon already available. The first and best of the television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is less than half an hour long, but it has more wit, charm, poignancy, than this feature film, and it includes one of the most beautiful holiday songs ever written, the piercingly bittersweet Christmastime is Here. In almost two hours, this film has time for just a snippet, to make room for inferior contemporary pop songs. A joke about “merch” seems ill-advised given the strip’s history of selling its characters for everything from insurance to toothbrushes.

The film begins promisingly, with Schroder playing the studio’s theme music on his piano and an immersive soft, gentle snowfall. It’s the most joyous day of the year — a snow day — and we meet the characters as they wake up and choose the winter activities they most enjoy. Charlie Brown decides it is a good time for him to try the kite again, figuring that the “kite-eating tree” will be out of commission in winter. It does not go well. Once school is back in session, a new student arrives, a girl with red hair, and Charlie Brown is smitten — and terrified. How can he impress her?

The Schulzes are true to the spirit of the original. We squirm with Charlie Brown as he agonizes over his insecurity, especially when he is faced with a dilemma at the school talent show and when he is awarded an honor it turns out he did not deserve. The sections with Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasy are of less interest and appeal and the 3D effects and the talents of top-tier musical stars (Trombone Shorty playing the “waa waas” for the adult voices and Kristen Chenoweth as Snoopy’s daring aviatrix love interest) are underused. The best use of this film is as an introduction to the classic television specials — and the original comic strips that inspired them.

Parents should know that this film includes some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, and some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles).

Family discussion: Which character is most like your friends? Which would you most want to be like? Why don’t we hear the grown-up voices?

If you like this, try: The Peanuts comic strip collections and the television specials.

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