Charlie Brown and his gangs in late Charles M. Schulz’s classic newspaper comic strip “Peanuts” have been cultural icons around the world since when it was started in 1950. Like many of you, I came to encounter these simple, broad, but memorable cartoon characters through animation films during my childhood years, and then I became more familiar with Schulz’s comic strip during my adolescence years as a part of learning English along with a little culture lesson. I cannot still forget a little boy who drove Charlie Brown’s sister Sally crazy as keeping talking about “The Great Gatsby”, and I am still amused by Peppermint Patty’s confusion with zucchini and Zamboni.
While there have been numerous Peanuts animation films including five feature films, “The Peanuts Movie” looks considerably different from what we have seen for many years. This is a digital animation film in contrast to many classic Peanuts animation films such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), but the film remains faithful to the style and mood of Schulz’s witty, innocent world. It may be a little odd to see its familiar characters being presented through digital animation, but we soon come to accept them without much problem, and the film is a little nostalgic fun as rolling around here and there with its colorful characters.
The film begins with one jolly winter day for Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) and other kids in the town. Snow is everywhere, and we meet them one by one as most of them are having a fun on their frozen pond. Lucy van Pelt (voiced by Hadley Belle Miller) is cranky and egocentric as usual, and her younger brother Linus van Pelt (voiced by Alex Garfin) is always with his blue blanket while his right thumb is often in his mouth. Sally (voiced by Mariel Sheets) usually calls Linus “Baboo” to his embarrassment, and Peppermint Patty (voiced by Venus Omega Schultheis) reminds me again of why I mistook her for a boy at first; after all, Marcie (voiced by Rebecca Bloom) always calls her ‘Sir’ as hanging around her. Franklin (voiced by Marelik “Mar Mar” Walker) and Pig-Pen (voiced by A.J. Teece) are just the same as we remember, and so is Schroeder (voiced by Noah Johnston), who is seldom away from his small piano. Yes, this is a familiar sight which has been quoted and parodied countless times before, but it is still a pleasant one full of lots of joyful innocent spirit in spite of that.
In the meantime, our hero Charlie Brown tries again to fly his kite, though, as we all know, he is bound to fail again like he did in many of his previous attempts. I was once tickled by one of his predicaments involved with that notorious ‘kite-eating tree’, but I also felt sorry for his miserable failure. He may be a loser as he frequently feels so, but he is a lovable one we are willing to hug, and there is something touching about how this round-headed kid tries to go on with smile and optimism despite the countless failures in his daily life. In the other words, he is just like many of us in our own life.
On one day, Charlie Brown suddenly finds himself fallen in love with a new girl in his class, who is simply called “the Red-haired Girl” (voiced by Francesca Angelucci Capaldi). While this elusive character was unseen in Schulz’s comic strip, we get the full presentation of how she looks during her first appearance, and Charlie Brown is instantly attracted to her as watching her from the behind. He becomes determined to win her affection, but then he is not so sure about whether he can do it or not.
His beagle dog Snoopy, who is more loyal and generous here than before, is willing to help his young master, and our resourceful and mischievous dog steals the show whenever he appears on the screen. He volunteers to be the assistant for his master during the school talent show, and he also teaches his master how to dance like a cool guy. After finding a typewriter by chance, he tries writing a story, and there inevitably comes that infamous opening sentence “It was a dark and stormy night.”
It is a shame that Snoopy’s story in the film does not feel as awful as all those supposedly bad ones he wrote in Schultz’s comic strip. Sitting on the top of his doghouse, Snoopy frequently imagines himself being the World War I Flying Ace with his bird sidekick Woodstock and other bird friends as the repair crew, and what we get here is no more than a series of standard animation action sequences merely functioning as mediocre filler materials for the film.
While the screenplay by Craig and Bryan Schulz (they are Schulz’s son and grandson, respectively) and Cornelius Uliano stays within its comfort zone with no risk or surprise, the director Steve Martino, who previous co-directed “Horton Hears a Who!” (2008) and “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (2012), makes it sure that the digital characters and backgrounds in his film evoke that familiar old-fashioned style of Schulz’s comic strip, which is occasionally utilized throughout the film with nice comic effects. The archival recordings of late Bill Melendez’s voice performances as Snoopy and Woodstock are effectively used with respect, and the young performers are natural and unadorned in their voice performances while the unseen adult characters in the film are presented through the “wah-wah” sounds provided by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Vince Guaraldi’s famous Peanuts piano theme is incorporated well into Christopher Beck’s score, but the use of several contemporary pop music pieces on the soundtrack is rather jarring and misguided in my opinion.
“The Peanuts Movie” is not the best one among many Peanuts animation films, but it is a well-made one with considerable amount of charm and heart, and I found myself rooting for Charlie Brown a lot even while being cranky about its several weak aspects. He keeps trying as he always did, and we cannot help but cheer for him as he eventually manages to surprise everyone including himself. I think the movie goes a little too far during the finale, but, as my fellow critic Michael Mirasol pointed out to me later, our boy surely deserves it after all those miserable years of bumbles and predicaments. You’re still a good man, Charlie Brown.