I never thought I would live to see the day, but I guess all things are inevitable, and now, Charlie Brown has gone CGI and 3D. But as I say in my video review (click the link above), fortunately that is the only trade-off for the Peanuts gang in their latest screen incarnation.
The Peanuts Movie, which 20th Century Fox releases on Friday, is a loving and faithful addition to the legacy of the late, great Charles Schulz’s endearing comic strip creation. There have been countless holiday-themed TV specials (still rerun every year on the networks) as well as four previous big-screen editions beginning with A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1969. There was even a Broadway musical, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. And now we have a CGI animated feature you can see in 3D. Actually the 3D isn’t really necessary, but is a prerequisite for all of these major studio toons these days — this one from Blue Sky, the group responsible for all the Ice Age and Rio movies in the Fox canon. I guess I am a purist, so I will confess I prefer the beautifully hand-drawn animation of all previous Peanuts-inspired movies, but the creative team here led by director Steve Martino has rendered it as loyally to the Schulz spirit as they possibly can.
It’s a little disconcerting, but the new look will work well for modern kid audiences. And the story itself is blissfully true to Peanuts tradition. In fact, the script is credited to Schulz’s son Craig, and grandson Bryan, as well as Cornelius Uliano (the trio also serve as producers along with Paul Feig and Michael J. Travers). That pretty much guarantees this movie will be a chip off the old block. The filmmakers have done nothing here to upset the apple cart. In fact, the voice cast isn’t made up of star names but rather actors who sound exactly like these characters have always sounded. No one misses a beat. The Peanuts gang still are true to themselves and still live in the timeless world they always have. There are no attempts to “contemporize” the story with references to cell phones, Internet or other modern conveniences kids have become used to since the advent of the Peanuts era all those decades ago. Snoopy still uses a typewriter to spin his tales, and everyone pretty much still does the same things in their little universe. It’s surprising how much hasn’t changed.
The basic plot, a pretty thin one for a 90-minute feature, revolves around lovestruck Charlie Brown’s attempts to woo the new girl with the red hair who has come to his school. That other girl Lucy is still playing psychologist. Linus, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty and lovable Woodstock are back. And Snoopy is still battling the Red Baron in the film’s major action-set pieces. In fact, the Snoopy/Red Baron stuff proves a little goes a long way as there is way too much of that. One sequence, not three, would have been enough, but I guess you have to keep the kids’ attention.
I think my favorite moment came right at the top during the 20th Century Fox logo where Schroeder is suddenly inserted playing along on his piano with the famous fanfare music. And speaking of music, Christophe Beck has been enlisted as composer, but I have to confess I miss the simplistic scores of Vince Guaraldi that have been such a key part of the Peanuts landscape. There is some of that but this score is not as memorable overall. Still, with the frenetic style of so much of what passes as kids fare these days, the simplicity of seeing The Peanuts Movie and this wonderful bunch of characters again on the big screen is more than enough.
Do you plan to see The Peanuts Movie? Let’s us know what you think.