When I was a boy, reading the comics in the Toledo Blade was an important part of my day. My favorite strip was printed at the top left of the first of two pages: Charles Shulz’s “Peanuts.” I counted Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole gang as friends, and like many now my age, grew up loving the daily window into their lives.
The television specials were just as essential. I can still hum every measure of Vince Guaraldi’s scores for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” and quote the dialog word for word. Christmas wasn’t Christmas, and Halloween wasn’t Halloween, without those shows.
I don’t remember laughing out loud at a single strip. But that wasn’t the point. “Peanuts” was funny, but the humor was subtle. (“It was a dark and stormy night ... ”) More importantly, Shulz had created a world in which every child and adult could find a bit of themselves, whether it was Charlie Brown pining for the Little Red-Haired Girl, Linus drawing comfort from his security blanket, or Snoopy picturing battles in the sky against the Red Baron. There was reassurance in knowing we went through the same things growing up – that the innocence of childhood was a universal experience.
Clearly, “Peanuts” strikes a nostalgic chord in me. So when I heard Blue Sky Studios, creators of “Ice Age,” was making a “Peanuts” movie, I expected the worst – goofy animation, bubblegum pop, and fart jokes, since that’s what studios think kids today want. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The creators of the movie weaved every beloved nuance of the “Peanuts” comic strip and TV specials into the new movie. From the “wah wah wah” of unseen adults, to Lucy being googly-eyed over Schroeder as he plays “Beethoven” on a toy piano, to Charlie Brown swearing he’s finally going to kick that football, it’s all there, naturally worked into the many vignettes that make up the larger film. Even better, the new movie is no reboot or prequel; rather, it fits snuggly into the world older adults knew growing up.
The story follows Charlie Brown on his quest to speak to the Little Red-Haired Girl, who’s moved in across the street. As he tries to summon the courage to ring her doorbell, he experiences what he considers to be a number of setbacks. For example, during a talent show at school, he foregoes what would have been an impressive magic act to save his sister, Sally, from bombing during her performance. While frustrating, each disappointing outcome reveals something commendable about his character, which the object of his affection does not fail to notice.
As I watched, I loved what I was seeing. The visuals are perfect, and brilliantly cross the crude, hand-drawn animation of the TV specials with modern techniques. The characters themselves are rendered in 3D, but the facial features, including the eyes, nose, and mouth, appear to have been animated by hand. This retains the character of the original shows while giving the film contemporary appeal. Many animated movies today (barring anything by Pixar) look like they were churned out of a video game factory. But a lot of thought was put into the visuals for “Peanuts,” and it shows.
Remember what I said about not laughing at the strip? Well, thanks to the filmmakers’ comical use of Snoopy, I laughed throughout the movie. While tapping out “the greatest love story the world has ever known” on his trusty typewriter, Charlie Brown’s pet beagle imagines himself vigorously pursuing Fifi, a poodle with whom he instantly falls in love. The Red Baron has other plans for him, though, and hilarity ensues.
I’ve written about how the “Peanuts” film contains many shades of the classic materials. But the people who made the movie didn’t just rely on the old tropes; they came up new ones, too. My favorite is Snoopy appearing from behind things that couldn’t possibly conceal a dog his size and shushing the other characters.
I was also pleased with the soundtrack. Composer Christophe Beck works many of Guaraldi’s most memorable motifs, including the vibrant “Linus and Lucy” and the seasonal favorite “Christmas Time is Here,” into his pitch perfect score.
I believe everyone, from adults who grew up with Charlie Brown and company to kids who just want to see a fun film, will enjoy the “Peanuts” movie, as it retains all of the charm and character of the original material while aiming to satisfy modern audiences. Like the TV specials of yesterday, I expect I’ll be watching it for years to come.
Three and a half stars out of four. Rated G.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.