The main character of the movie is, of course, Charlie Brown. He is still that same lovable loser we all know and love; he still can’t fly a kite or win a baseball game. He tries to fit in with all the other kids, but with a few exceptions like his best friend Linus and pet beagle Snoopy (who has a tendency to take flights of fancy where he imagines himself as a Great War pilot), he still feels isolated and sometimes unwanted. It is for this reason that he is extremely excited when a new kid moves in across the street from him one winter; he’s excited to meet a new friend who doesn’t know anything about his history of failures. As it turns out, the new kid is a Little Red-Haired Girl, who Charlie Brown is instantly smitten with. He then decides to impress her anyway he can and to overcome his own insecurity and self-doubt.
Much to my pleasant surprise, The Peanuts Movie manages to very well capture the feel of the original Peanuts strips and the classic animated TV specials. The characterization is spot-on, from Charlie Brown’s endearing and kid-friendly depression to Lucy’s irritating bossiness, Schroeder’s constant playing of Beethoven and Peppermint Patty’s tom boyishness. The movie maintains many of the minor but important character traits and plot points that often get overlooked in modern adaptions and reimaginings, such as how Marcie always calls Peppermint Patty “Sir” and how Linus makes a clever reference to the Great Pumpkin. These work to tie the movie back to the series’ older works, which is also helped by occasional flashbacks which are drawn in a two-dimensional style reminiscent of the art style of the comic strips.
Another small feature I really liked is how Snoopy and Woodstock are only voiced by the same archival audio recordings which were used to voice them in the TV specials. This again functions to link the movie to the old Peanuts works, making this movie feel like a coherent continuation of the series. And speaking of Snoopy, his fantasy sequences are simply delightful. Rather than feeling out-of-place or unnecessary (as I was expecting), they are actually delightfully fun to watch as Snoopy battles in the skies of Europe with his eternal nemesis, the Red Baron. This time he is fighting to rescue a new character, a French puddle named Fifi, but he still flies his doghouse. The studio clearly put a lot of time and effort into making these sequences, and they look great.
Not to say that the movie doesn’t have any flaws. The animation style, for example, is a manipulation of standard CGI to make it appear more like old-style 2D animation. It looks quite odd at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Another problem with the movie is the score. Obviously the movie’s music could never be as good as the work done by Vince Guaraldi for the TV specials; by one poll, the iconic theme music for A Charlie Brown Christmas (titled “Linus and Lucy”) is one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever. But the score of this music was noticeably flat, and this is only made more obvious the few times Guaraldi’s music drifts in.
But overall, The Peanuts Movie is a surprising success for Blue Sky Studios, possibly their best outing yet. It’s cute, it’s funny, and most importantly it retains the spirit of the series rather than feeling like just another money grab. And it’s something both your child or younger sibling and you will enjoy. I must say, sometimes it’s really good to be completely wrong.