'The Peanuts Movie' captures the spirit of the comic strip despite big narrative missteps

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

In an age where reboots of popular franchises are heavily modernized, it’s easy to hate the idea of seeing the “Peanuts” characters in a new, 3D animation style. The uncreative, awfully-written “Alvin and the Chipmunk” series proves how easily childhood franchises can be butchered for the sake of being “hip.”  However, the creators of “The Peanuts Movie” succeed in staying true to the original material. Despite an unfocused plot that jumps around, “Peanuts” is a charming adaptation in a new animation form that fans and newcomers can both enjoy.

Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp), the bald-headed pessimist of the Peanuts gang, finds himself head over heels in love with a new little red-headed girl (Francesca Capaldi) who has recently moved into town. Desperate for her attention, Charlie attempts to overcome his perceived inadequacies through a series of misadventures that last throughout the school year. Meanwhile, Charlie’s loyal dog Snoopy and bird companion Woodstock — both voiced by the late Bill Melendez from archival recordings — embark on a thrilling story about ace pilot Snoopy taking on the dreaded Red Baron.

Based on a screenplay written by the son and grandson of “Peanuts” creator Charles Shultz, “The Peanuts Movie” demonstrates the immaculate care taken to preserve the legacy of the cartoon. All the popular characters get an appropriate amount of screen time and few are overlooked. The film even playfully references past “Peanuts” adventures throughout the story, such as the Kite-Eating Tree and the Great Pumpkin. The only aspect of the film that’s “modernized” is a horrendous, but mercifully brief, sequence where a Meghan Trainor song comes belting out of nowhere during the dance number.

While the idea of a 3D animated “Peanuts” adventure sounds potentially revolting, the minimal use of the platform creates a charming effect. The characters and the world retain their classic looks, but the medium makes them even more visually striking. That, along with touches of traditional animation, creates a pleasant image that harkens back to the old “Peanuts” feel yet comes across as modern. The style greatly assists the visual jokes that make up the majority of the film’s comedy, and the slapstick makes every movement feel fluid and lively.

But great animation can only help a plot with such a short attention span. Charlie Brown’s attempt to woo the new student throughout the year serves as the main conflict, but the methods he uses to get noticed feel scattered. One scene has him trying to win the school talent show. Another has him punching out a thousand-word report in one night. Though funny as separate plotlines, they feel more appropriate for a “Peanuts” TV show, or even the original comics, than a film.

Snoopy’s storyline, where he dreams up an action-packed scenario of being a fighter pilot, is fun yet distracting. The transitions between the main story and this subplot are often random and awkwardly placed. The attempt to justify them as part of an epic novel Snoopy’s working on feels forced.  Of course, the stellar animation and creativity warrant the subplot’s existence, but there just isn’t a subtle place for it in regard to the rest of the story.

“The Peanut’s Movie” avoids changing the brand to better fit modern times. Shultz’s descendants truly understand the impact these characters have on audiences and deliver a film catered directly to them. The plot has severe pacing issues and meanders around from one scenario to the other, but the great animation and fun visuals save it from being an incoherent mess.

The Peanuts Movie

  • Director: Steve Martino
  • Runtime: 93 minutes
  • Rating: 4/5 stars