I wish Hollywood would display this much respect and restraint with Dr. Seuss as they have with Charles Shulz. As a hardcore fan of Peanuts, I was initially very weary about how the series would be treated for a more mainstream modern audience. Thankfully my fears were laid to rest watching “The Peanuts Movie,” which isn’t just an adaptation of the original series, but is also a love letter to boot. Fans of the series will love how Steve Martino treats Charlie Brown and his world, opting for a wholesome respectful film, rather than ramming in pop culture references, and a sugary pop soundtrack. There’s nothing remotely cloying or obnoxious about “The Peanuts Movie,” and the new animation format even works in the series favor.
It lends the entire storytelling format a new sense of dimension and heart, while giving us the classic Charlie Brown we know and love. When we meet Charlie Brown, he’s still the same good hearted underdog that we’ve known and loved for years. He just can’t seem to get a break in his life, and is constantly cursed with bad luck, or the shorter end of the stick. But nothing really keeps him from continuously trying his best, and aiming for that high note in his life where his luck might finally change once and for all. While there is a ton of lip service to classic Peanuts animation like the Christmas and Halloween specials, “The Peanuts Movie” is a self contained coming of age tale where Charlie Brown struggles with a conflict of conscience once and for all.
“The Peanuts Movie” relies on being more of an episodic look in to the life of Charlie Brown, revolving around two problems that ultimately connect in ways beyond his imagination. After struggling to ace a test, Charlie Brown is shocked to discover that he’s been given a one hundred percent. This grants him instant fame among his classmates, inspiring a winning streak and self confidence within him. Meanwhile, he’s teamed up with his new neighbor the girl with the red hair, to write a book report. When she goes out of town for her sick grandmother, he takes it upon himself to write the report for her and read the ultimate novel: “War and Peace.” What the writers adhere to first and foremost is simplicity, which has always been a friend to the Peanuts stories.
There’s no convoluted tale, or vicious villain created for the sake of giving Charlie Brown something to do. He merely attempts to deal with being a celebrity, and tries to salvage it in his own way, including learning to dance for an upcoming prom in one of the sweetest sequences of the year. The voice work for the most part is top notch, with all of the performers giving heartfelt turns as the respective Peanuts gang. Bill Melendez even reprises the role of Snoopy in a sub-plot involving his battle with the Red Baron for the heart of a lovely female dog. “The Peanuts Movie” doesn’t attempt to re-invent the wheel. It just sticks to the basics of what makes the Peanuts so lovable, while re-working the animation for a new generation. It’s a wonderful big screen presentation that I think Charles Shulz would be proud of.