Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Directed by: Steve Martino
Starring: Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Rebecca Bloom
Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz’s all conquering comic strip turned multi-media empire, might not have the same impact this side of the Atlantic, but the people of the old world are hardly unaware of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and co. The strip which ran for nearly half a century from 1950 to 2000, and the animated TV spin-offs, have delighted people of all ages even if the US-specific social nuances might get lost in translation.
The same applies to The Peanuts Movie, rebranded with Snoopy and Charlie Brown’s names in front for us less discerning Brits. The small-town, white picket fence and baseball mound idyll presented in the film might not be the same dream shared over here, but Charlie Brown’s furtive steps into the dating game are packed full of too many good jokes not to enjoy.
A lot of the film’s success is built on its look. The modern CGI merges with the original four panel-gag strip approach to feel both fresh and respectful. There’s a flat aesthetic at times, characters shuffling across the screen in jolts of action, while speech bubbles occasionally pop up, a final homage to the source material.As for the story, it’s mostly a whole load of nothing. Centring on Charlie Brown’s efforts to prove his own worth and win over the newly arrived Little Red-Haired Girl, the story, written by two generations of Schulz’s in Bryan and Craig, and Cornelius Uliano, takes a backseat to the jokes. Charlie learns to dance, becomes an expert literary critic overnight and humiliates himself on more than one occasion from the school auditorium stage as he attempts to woo his new neighbour.
The main story advances through set-pieces more than anything giving the whole film a sketch show feel. There’s actually more coherency in a daydreaming sub-plot that sees Snoopy take to the skies on his dog-house to save a beautiful heroine from the clutches of the Red Baron. The narrative arc running through his adventures is notably missing when Charlie Brown takes centre stage.This weakness at the heart of the film matters a lot less than would normally be the case. In lieu of story, there’s warm jokes. All of the Peanuts regulars, voiced energetically, get a look in: from Marcie to Peppermint Patty, from Linus to Schroeder and Pig-Pen. As Charlie lurches from one disaster to the next, he does so with the involvement of a rotating collection of classmates. Occasionally they’re all brought together; for arguments in the classroom with their unseen teacher who sounds like a broken foghorn or aborted kite-flying sessions on the frozen pond. There’s a charming sense of community as everyone engages in a series of good-natured slapstick gags.
It’s this good-natured charm that carries the film through its weaker moments. Everything about The Peanuts Movie feels like a steady stream of four-panel gag strips strung together for an hour and a half. It creates a lightweight film that manages to stay true to the heart of the characters. Peanuts has always relied on sharply written hometown charm delivered in bite sized chunks. This big screen outing is no different.