Introduction: I’ve been a Peanuts fan for as long as I can remember. My parents introduced me to the lovable, round-headed, yellow-sweater-wearing Charlie Brown and his pals in the Peanuts comic strip and later through the movies and television specials. My enjoyment of and love for the Peanuts gang has never diminished. I hold a special place in my heart for these characters because they’re universal and the stories they tell are simple and present good, old fashioned common sense, values, and humor. Hence, when news broke that Peanuts would be coming to the big screen in a modern reboot, I immediately assumed the worst. I wasn’t looking forward to it and feared what would be done to usher Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Co. into the 21st Century. But, as it turns out, none of my fears came true and I was beyond pleasantly surprised. Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.
The Story: The Peanuts Movie (2015) introduces a new generation, and reacquaints old fans, with the classic characters in a brand new, original story. This time around, the Peanuts gang discover that a new kid has moved into town – a little red-head girl who immediately strikes Charlie Brown’s fancy. But try as he might, he just can’t seem to pluck up the nerve to talk to her. In a similar, parallel plot, Snoopy takes to his imaginary skies as a WWI flying ace to do battle with the infamous Red Baron and woo a pilot named Fifi. Through heart-warming vignettes, Charlie and his canine pal discover what it means to be themselves and that a little dogged determination goes a long way.
My Take: As mentioned in my introduction, I was actually not looking forward to seeing this movie when the first trailer came out. Even though the animation style was strikingly beautiful, my biggest fear was that this was going to take yet another aspect of my childhood and ruin it. I’ve seen it happen with many reboots, from The Smurfs, to Alvin and the Chipmunks, to Garfield, to Inspector Gadget and The Cat In the Hat, the last two of which I rank as some of the worst movies of all time.
I’m certainly not against adapting a story to bring it into the modern age; but sometimes in doing so, the heart of the original characters and story that people love becomes muddled or lost, especially if filmmakers get careless. Based on other reboots, I assumed The Peanuts Movie would introduce the Peanuts gang to smart phones, have them spout off double entendres, and be flooded with product placements and pop culture references, all to the backing track of current Top 40 pop songs. After all, that’s the route Hollywood has taken with other reboots, why not subject Peanuts to the same fate?
For starters, and most importantly, The Peanuts Movie stays true to its simple roots. There are no vestiges of modern technology here: Lucy doesn’t have an iPhone, Charlie Brown doesn’t write a book report on a laptop or read War and Peace on a Kindle, and Schroeder doesn’t own an electronic keyboard. The world of the Peanuts gang remains a simple place, one where kids act like kids but not stupid kids. If there’s one thing Charles Schulz showed the world, it’s that children are not as inept or dumb as we like to treat them sometimes. They grapple with big thoughts and emotions, and Charlie Brown and the gang capture this in a very organic way. There are no goody-two-shoe characters here; instead, Charlie Brown and his friends are portrayed as very human: sometimes they don’t always make the right or best choice but they learn from their mistakes and pick themselves up when they fall down (sometimes literally!).
Charlie Brown is a great fictional role model as he tries to do what’s right; is a noble young fellow; exhibits a persevering spirit; and possesses a giant, kind heart. There are two scenes in particular where this is expertly displayed. I won’t discuss them in detail because they kind of count as spoilers, so all I will say is that Charlie is given two opportunities to either think of himself or do the right thing and exit his comfort zone. The end result is applause-worthy and would make for a great lesson for kids as well as adults. So, all in all, The Peanuts Movie lifts the characters straight out of the comics and onto the big screen and they remain the same characters that we know and love rather than modernized, street-wise caricatures. Likewise, the voices of the main characters are supplied by children, not adults, thus keeping to the original Peanuts films and the intent of the characters – sometimes it takes the heart of a child to see the beautiful simplicity in the world.
In the same way, the story stays true to its source material as it keeps things simple and linear. While I would have liked to have seen a few more vignettes involving the other characters, I think it’s fair to say that Charlie Brown and Snoopy remain the most recognized faces of the Peanuts gang; so it only makes sense that the bulk of the movie is going to focus on them though their pals get their time to shine, too. Plot-wise, the story focuses on Charlie Brown’s attempts to befriend the Little Red-Head Girl. However, every time he tries, he gets tongue tied or things turn disastrous. Yet he doesn’t give up. When Charlie and the Little Red-Head Girl are partnered up to work on a book report, something unexpected happens that causes Charlie to step up and do what’s right, even though there is no immediate reward. Yet all’s well that ends well, and that’s all I will say regarding the ending because I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s worth seeing because it’s a touching, hope-filled moment that avoids becoming saccharine.
The B-story that runs parallel to Charlie Brown’s unrequited love plot is Snoopy’s attempts to take down the Red Baron. In the meantime, he develops a crush on a pretty Poodle pilot named Fifi (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth, the only celebrity in the cast) but just can’t seem to snag her attention for long. Snoopy is just about to give up hope until the Red Baron captures Fifi, then Snoopy will stop at nothing to save her. It’s interesting that both of the chief plots mirror each other in a way. Snoopy’s battles with the Red Baron visually depict Charlie Brown’s inner war with himself as he overcomes his lack of self-confidence. While maybe the number of aerial fighting sequences could have been reduced, they’re not out of place and don’t dominate the movie’s running time. Plus, both plots work together to spread the message that you should never give up on the ones you love.
This reboot does add a few gentle, modern touches but they are tastefully done. First, the animation style is absolutely gorgeous and looks realistic – from the cracked wood on Snoopy’s doghouse, to the softly falling snow, to characters’ clothing looking like real, touchable fabric. It’s breathtaking and definitely doesn’t look like cheap, phoned-in CGI. This is an upgrade from the old-school cel animation we saw in the Peanuts movies but that’s all right. It’s to be expected that this wouldn’t be cel animation (though there are some hand-drawn animated elements incorporated) but it avoids choppy visuals and awkward character movements. Along the same lines, the animation speed has been modernized. The original Peanuts films were, in terms of the animations’ movements, slow but not sluggish. Since contemporary audiences are used to faster-paced images, The Peanuts Movie allows its animation to be sped up to accommodate this but it suits the film’s tone and style, so it’s not rapid-fire. I don’t think the pacing in the original films would fit a CGI-animated, full-length motion picture, so this change is appropriate but complements the source material rather than degrades it.
In terms of the film’s soundtrack, it retains some of Vince Guaraldi’s pieces used in the original films, namely “Skating;” “Christmas Time is Here;” and, of course, “Linus and Lucy,” a composition that is the most recognized and the Peanuts gang’s unofficial theme song. The rest of the score is composed by Christophe Beck and it, too, is appropriate and fitting to the film. Rather than inundate the movie with pop songs, Beck’s score retains a classic orchestra that sometimes mashes up with Guaraldi’s original music. It’s a perfect fit and is respectful to the music that has become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the gang.
Granted, there are two original pop songs used in the movie. First, there is a track by Flo Rida called “That’s What I Like” and the sung (not rapped) chorus is played in a few portions of the movie. But more notable is “Better When I’m Dancing” by Meaghan Trainor, which plays in its entirety during both the movie and the credits. This song really works and, again, is very respectful and appropriate to Peanuts, not to mention I think a more retro-sounding artist such as Trainor was a good choice to perform the song. Musically, it fits with the movie’s tone so it doesn’t sound out of place or dropped in just to have a pop song. It really is a very fun, up-beat song that will set your feet to moving (even if it’s just tapping ’cause I can’t dance!) and lift your spirits. Lyrically it fits, too, as it’s a simple song about being yourself and being confident in who you are. All in all, I loved the soundtrack as it, too, possesses both a modern edge yet retains the classic, cool Peanuts vibe.
This movie also delivers some fun nods and Easter eggs to the original Peanuts films and comics. One such “egg” is a homage to Bill Melendez and Bill Mendelson, producers of the original Peanuts films. (You can spot their names on the side of a moving van.) Another harkening to the original comics comes in the form of classic moments, from Lucy’s psychiatric booth (yes, she still only charges a nickel), to the kite-eating tree, to even the Little Red-Head Girl’s chewed-on pencil, to a well-known sequence that doesn’t appear until the credits. Another big nod that deserves applause is that the movie does not re-record the voices for Snoopy and Woodstock. Instead, they use Bill Melendez’s original recordings rather than assign a new voice actor. This garners a lot of respect from me because it shows that the film’s creators really wanted to pay proper respect to Peanuts by not trying to change it into something unrecognizable.
Also commendable is the lack of product placement and pop culture name-dropping. While I appreciate a well-timed, clever pop culture reference here and there and I usually overlook most product placements, a plethora of them grates on my nerves and makes me question how much originality went into the script. Much to my surprise, there are no pop culture references, no product placements, and no attention on celebrity. In a brief aside, I found this rather refreshing as, during the showing I attended, a trailer for yet another Chipmunks movie showcased the famous rodents singing Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and attending a party where former member of LMFAO, Redfoo, serves as the DJ. Quite unlike The Peanuts Movie, this Chipmunks installment looks to be a rapid-fire, loud, modernized flick complete with Top 40 tunes, pop culture references, corny jokes, and celebrity cameos. In stark contrast, The Peanuts Movie is quiet and gentle with clever humor and a simple premise devoid of wink-wink humor and celebrity guest appearances. (Even Trainor, whose song is technically the official single for the movie, makes nary an appearance.) For that, it stands heads and shoulders above its reboot peers.
In summation, what makes The Peanuts Movie work is that it knows its characters and its audience. It knows the Peanuts gang are a slice of Americana and, as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Nothing about Peanuts needs to be caught up with the times yet it doesn’t stay trapped in a time warp. Its style and delivery are contemporary yet don’t compromise on the characters we know and love nor the lessons they teach. Charlie Brown and Snoopy teach us about kindness, virtue, and perseverance, which hits home far more poignantly than corny one-liners or karaoke renditions of current songs. Instead, The Peanuts Movie works not only as a perfect reboot but also as a well-crafted film and a respectful tribute to Charles Schultz’s creations who will always be there to remind us, “Don’t give up, kid.”
Content Breakdown: The Peanuts Movie was given a G rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – None. Lucy and a few other characters call Charlie Brown a “blockhead” at times and a few characters exclaim “Good grief!” and “Rats!” but that’s honestly the “worst” this movie gets.
Violence – None. There are scenes of action and peril when Snoopy engages the Red Baron but there is no actual violence or blood-letting. Also, while Fifi is captured, she is never harmed.
Sexual Material – None, including no crude jokes or innuendos.
Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe The Peanuts Movie stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Recommended, though perhaps only the very youngest of children might be scared when Fifi is captured and Snoopy goes after the Red Baron. These sequences are longer and more detailed than those in the original Peanuts movies but nothing here breaches the confines of a G rating. Likewise, this film clocks in at slightly over 90 minutes, which might be too long for extremely little children to sit through and never waiver in patience.
Older Children & Teens – Recommended, whether they’re long-time fans of the Peanuts gang or not. There is something here for all ages and for fans and non-fans alike.
Young Adults & Adults – Recommended, especially if you grew up on Peanuts. Rather than resort to crude humor or adult jokes, this film takes the high road and delivers wholesome laughs along with a story that’s smart and touching.
I wanted to clap and give this movie a standing ovation when it was over in the theatre. The Peanuts Movie is a perfect reboot of Schulz’s characters that generates a solid balance of both the old and the new. In short, this is one reboot you don’t have to be scared of because it does everything right. It’s simple in its story, it’s beautiful to look at, and its message is powerful. Truly this is a rare film that all ages can enjoy and enjoy it they should. Well done, Peanuts Movie, well done!