Directed by Steve Martino. Produced by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, Paul Feig, and Michael J. Travers. Written by Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano. Release date: November 6, 2015.
The Peanuts Movie reminds us of how enduring and iconic its series’ characters are. From the moment the film begins, we know exactly who most of these people are and what their shtick is. Even for those in the audience not intimately familiar with the series – you may have caught a couple of the Peanuts specials on TV, but were never fully invested in the property – you feel right at home as soon as Schroeder (Noah Johnston) starts playing his piano or Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) sets up her curbside psychiatric help stand. And, yes, we know Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) is the yellow-shirted kid who will never, ever get to kick that football.
So, then, it comes as a little bit of a disappointment that The Peanuts Movie isn’t at all interested in expanding upon any of that, satisfied with its one-note characters doing their thing and nothing more. Maybe we shouldn’t expect more – the franchise has been around for more than half a century, and not a whole lot has been done with them in that time – but with a big budget and a wide theatrical release, it’s not an unreasonable hope. Linus (Alex Garfin) gives life advice and clutches his blanket, Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) is good at sports, Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) is smart and calls Patty “sir” – these aren’t personalities; they’re traits that take the place of genuine character. This works in comic strips and even in 25-minute TV specials. As a feature film? Not so much.
The plot, what little there is, involves Charlie Brown pining for The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi), his new neighbor from across the street. Meanwhile, Snoopy (Bill Melendez, posthumously) fantasizes about fighting the Red Baron to rescue the love of his life, Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth). Snoopy’s fantasies act as a metaphor for what Charlie Brown is going through. Snoopy’s dogfight sequences are also the best parts of the movie.
Essentially a series of loosely connected vignettes, The Peanuts Movie shows Charlie Brown constantly fail to succeed even when success seems almost guaranteed. He’s a good kid, and he never gives up – the two virtues the film wants to instill in its viewers, which is admirable enough – but he just can’t quite get it done. He wants to impress the girl, because he’s too afraid to simply go up and talk to her, so we watch him try to win a talent show, learn to dance, and write a book report on Leo Tolstoy‘s War and Peace, because nothing entertains children more than watching a beloved character write a 1,000-word report on a book of over 1,000 pages.
The Peanuts Movie is dull, unfunny, and almost a complete loss when it comes to character and plot.
The Peanuts Movie hopes to do two things: (1) appeal to the nostalgia of adults who loved the comic strips and TV specials when they were younger and (2) entice children to get into the franchise. It does the former by taking entire lines of dialogue and segments from existing properties and simply repurposing them to fit into the narrative of this film. There’s very little that’s new in this movie; it all feels like things we’ve done before. As for entertaining the children? It’s a largely talky movie that doesn’t contain that many jokes and feels pretty repetitive. They’ll love Snoopy, though. That dog sure is fun.
The fantasy Snoopy scenes are when The Peanuts Movie comes alive. It helps that Snoopy and Woodstock – the dog’s bird friend – are funnier than their humans, but also because things happen in the fantasy. It does feel like they were thrown in just to give us some action in an otherwise dull picture – and because the film wants you to remember It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. These scenes are imaginative, funny, and paint Snoopy as a far better protagonist than Charlie Brown.
Meanwhile, we’ve got a fantasy girl in the Little Red-Haired Girl who is without a personality or even much of a name – I think her name is mentioned once, perhaps – who fits the role of an unobtainable object for our protagonist. That’s something, all right. She’s even less of a character than most of the supporting cast, although that does keep with the tradition of the comics. She’s a plot device – a MacGuffin – and nothing more.
In an attempt to “update” Peanuts, we’ve got CGI animation as opposed to the hand-drawn animation we’re used to. It works quite well, even if it does, at times, just feel kind of wrong, although that’s only because it’s different. This is also the point where I inform you that its 3D adds nothing and that you are better off seeing it in its full color in 2D. 3D glasses reduce the brightness and vibrancy of the film, and since in this case there’s no benefit to doing that, 2D is the version you want to see. Then again, you don’t have much reason to watch any version. Despite the best of intentions, some good animation, and warmth and sweetness not often seen in today’s age, The Peanuts Movie is dull, unfunny, and almost a complete loss when it comes to character and plot. It’s a swing and a miss, Charlie Brown.
Bottom Line: Its characters are one-note traits, its story contains nothing more than a series of loosely connected vignettes, there aren’t many jokes, and the Snoopy fantasy scenes steal the show.
Recommendation: Go (re-)watch a couple of the Peanuts specials if you’re jonesing for a Charlie Brown fix. The Peanuts Movie is not worth it.[rating=1.5]