Premiered November 6, 2015.
Since this film is in theaters now I'm going to break from my normal "summary/review" format today. This review is also more extemporaneous than usual.
If you're reading this, you're probably a fan of Peanuts. Ever since this film was announced, we've heard Charlie Brown fans worry that it would be terrible and antithetical to Charles Schulz' vision of his characters.
I can tell you that The Peanuts Movie is very good and not a betrayal to its source material. Which is not surprising, since Craig and Bryan Schulz (Schulz' son and grandson, respectively) co-wrote the story with Cornelius Uliano.
Yes, the characters are more detailed and they look different than what we've seen before. But they're still recognizable and I'm glad Blue Sky Studios didn't try to make them look "realistic" (like the way Alvin is depicted in the recent Chipmunks movies). Several fantasy sequences are depicted in the style of "traditional" animation, which should satisfy those who don't like the new depictions of Chuck and the gang.
The movie opens with Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" playing and I'll admit I got a bit choked up when I that playing over a movie theater sound system.
Its first scene is reminiscent of A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) expresses his frustration at failing at kite-flying, baseball and just about everything else.
We get two parallel story lines:
Charlie Brown's desire for the little red-haired girl to notice him, and Snoopy's World War I fantasy quest to win the love of a dog named Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth) while trying to shoot down his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.
I'm reluctant to spoil much more of the plot. Needless to say, Chuck flops every time he tries to gain the attention of the little red-haired girl. Until...well, you'll have to see you movie to find out what happens.
There's also a very touching scene where Charlie Brown sees that his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) is in a pickle. He goes out of his way, to his own detriment, to help his little sister.
We see lots of homages and nods to previous Charlie Brown movies and specials. Linus (Alexander Garfin) even manages a one-liner about the Great Pumpkin. But none of these "inside" references are distracting and kids can enjoy this movie without seeing the previous animated offerings.
It was nice that the filmmakers blended casts of characters from different eras. Shermy, Patty and Violet were later overshadowed and replaced by Peppermint Patty, Franklin and Marci. Hardcore Peanuts fans will recall that in past specials, the latter three kids went to a different school. The decision by the filmmakers to put them in the same schools doesn't bother me, since Charlie Brown specials were never strong on continuity.
While Franklin is the only non-white character who has a speaking role, there is a lot more ethnic diversity among the background characters than in earlier Charlie Brown animation. This is a step in the right direction, Chuck's classroom should look like the United States of 2015, and it does.
I've seen two major complaints by critics and fans, I'll address them:
1."The Peanuts Movie has a somewhat-happy ending and that doesn't belong in Charlie Brown's world." Most Charlie Brown speicals/movies end with Chuck's status quo restored, sometimes made worse. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes Charlie Brown (or another character, in the rare case Chuck isn't the main focus) achieved some level of success (such as winning a spelling bee or gaining leadership skills).
2."There's too much action, Peanuts isn't about action it's about characters." I can think of plenty of "action" sequences in classic Charlie Brown animation. Snoopy grabs the blanket and sprints away with Linus in multiple specials. The Red Baron scenes, Chuck getting hit by a line drive. I could list more, but action has been part of Peanuts films and and specials for years.
Hadley Belle Miller is convincing as Lucy, especially when calling Chuck a blockhead.
In most Charlie Brown specials, adults voices were only heard as "wah-wah-wah-wah" noises played on a trombone. Thankfully, the creative team here brought in Trombone Shorty (real name:Troy Andrews) to re-create this sound in The Peanuts Movie.
The only famous name in the cast is Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, who voices Fifi. Chenoweth won a Tony Award in 1999 for playing Sally in a revival of the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. So her appearance here is a bit of stunt-casting.
I obviously enjoyed it, but The Peanuts Movie is not perfect. We get a scene where Peppermint Patty refers to Snoopy as " that crazy dog," whereas in the past, she's always called him "that funny looking kid with the big nose." Maybe the filmmakers thought that wouldn't work in 2015? I don't know.
I don't care much for Meghan Trainor's song "Better When I'm Dancing," which was recorded specifically for this film. I know how the film and music industries work today, I'm not bothered by the presence of a pop song in a Charlie Brown movie. But it has too much auto tuning for me and feels out of place in The Peanuts Movie.
Christophe Beck's original music is okay. Beck arranges several of Guaraldi's tunes and adds his own unique twists. The slowed down, melancholy version of "Linus And Lucy" is very effective. And "Carnival Panic," which segues into a punched-up version of "Linus And Lucy" is also good.
But on the whole, the new music on this soundtrack isn't very memorable.
I'm glad they included the Guaraldi music, it's some of my favorite music of the 20th century and it still sounds amazing today. It was re-recorded by jazz pianist David Benoit who contributed music to most of the Peanuts specials produced from the late 1980s into the 2000s
The Peanuts Movie is recommended to anyone who is or has ever been a fan of Peanuts. If you aren't a fan, this will make you want to watch more Charlie Brown animation.
One more thing:Make sure you stay through the closing credits!
J.A. Morris' rating:
3 and a half Sparkys.