The legacy of Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip turned worldwide phenomenon The Peanuts cannot be overstated, or really matched by anything in modern popular culture. And it is precisely because of this legacy that the franchise has remained unadapted to the big screen for decades, and nor has it been ravaged in the same manner as other nostalgic properties such as Scooby Doo, Garfield, The Smurfs, or Alvin & the Chipmunks. Therefore, the new big screen adaptation simply titled The Peanuts Movie had a lot to live up to, and for the most reaches the potential of its source material, and does service to these classic characters and their world.
Those familiar with The Peanuts crew and all their misadventures know full well that plot and story structure have never been the main focus herein, and this film faithfully adheres to this. Therefore, there isn’t much in the way of a beat-by-beat storyline to discuss, but the basics go as follows: a (self-described) wishy-washy, insecure loser named Charlie Brown has his ordinary day to day existence disrupted when a mysterious new girl moves into town, and the poor kid finds himself facing his deepest insecurities in an attempt to simply make himself known to her. A simple conflict to be sure, but one of this film’s greatest charms is that it keeps in line with the more episodic, free-flowing narrative style so often associated with these characters, rather than trying to interject some formulaic Hollywood plot into the fray.
Another one of the biggest methods of updating this universe for a modern audience is the animation style. Rather than go for the more traditional, hand-drawn animation that graced all previous incarnations of the characters, this film is the first to present them in a modern 3D animated style, albeit designed to faithfully capture the seemingly flat and rigid character designs of the comic panels and classic cartoons. It’s a smart aesthetic move, and allows the filmmakers have their cake and eat it to, by both updating the animation format and still adhering to the beloved original designs of each character. Also, some classic musical cues from the television specials are also revived to elevate a few key moments, without feeling shoehorned in or being overly manipulative either.
To address any cons the film has to offer (minor though they might be), one must first utter a phrase that could be considered heretical to die hard fans of the whole Peanuts lore. Maybe in this film there was… too much Snoopy? Much like in the cartoon shorts, Snoopy is given his own subplot apart from the main story with Charlie Brown and company, where his adventures as the World War I Flying Ace and his struggles against the Red Baron are brought to life in all their dazzling contemporary 3D animation glory.
Whereas those sections in the old cartoons provided some temporary diversions to pad out the running time in a cute and inventive manner, here the whole side storyline takes up at least 20-25 minutes of a less than 90 minute feature. Not saying these sections are poorly done or anything – in fact, lovers of the Snoopy character would probably consider these segments to be the highlight of the film, and it does make sense from a marketing standpoint to give the most popular character in the franchise as much screentime as possible, but when the main plot keeps getting put on hold for another ten minute stretch of these cute but ultimately pointless diversions, the effect starts to wear thin pretty quickly. Again, not bad by any means, but they could’ve been trimmed down without costing the film anything.
All in all, The Peanuts serves its source material and characters well, and results in a perfectly enjoyable, innocent little cinematic outing. It’s not an Inside Out-level masterpiece, but the effect it’s going for is something more modest and understated, which is just as commendable of an effort. It won’t change anyone’s life or convert those uninterested by this property beforehand, but it’s an upbeat, sophisticated translation of what made these characters and their world so beloved in the first place, all without being a hollow nostalgia trip. Take it for what it is, and thank the movie Gods that the property wasn’t bastardized to the point of having an upcoming fourth installment called “The Road Chip” arriving in theaters this Christmas.