An initial glance at The Peanuts Movie will tell you straight away how it succeeds where films like The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo and most likely the upcoming Popeye have failed: it may be yet another 3D-update to a classic cartoon that was requested by no one in particular, but the way it translates not only the tone of the original, but also its whole visual style, is something to admire. Especially in an age where any other filmmaker would have changed the setting to modern day and had the characters dance to some mainstream Beyoncé song whilst wearing product placement for Red Bull.
The best part, however, is that its aversion from modern kid’s movie clichés isn’t its only triumph. It’s not like, say, the third Star Wars movie where people call it “great” just because it isn’t as bad as previous films like it. The Peanuts Movie is legitimately good, and it will warm the hearts of old fans as well as it welcomes younger audiences.
The film stars all of our favorite characters from Charles M. Schulz‘s comics and cartoons, and their voice actors seem to have been chosen based on their talent and how fitting their voices are, instead of the magnitude of their stardom. The movie doesn’t feature “Zac Efron as Charlie Brown” or “Jennifer Lawrence as Peppermint Patty”. Instead it just features the characters, who all speak in voices that seem to truly be theirs. This goes double for Snoopy and Woodstock, whose vocals are provided by archived audio of Bill Melendez‘s voice.
The central plot of course follows Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and his devastating crush on the new lady in the neighborhood, the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi), whom he believes is unlikely to ever notice him. Mostly, the film is an episodic adventure of him making numerous attempts to be more confident, popular or whatever else he hopes will get her attention. He is surrounded by all the great characters from the comic strips like Linus van Pelt, Charlie’s little sister Sally, the egotistical Lucy, tomboyish Peppermint Patty, Patty’s sidekick Sally, Scroeder the pianist, and the filthy Pig-Pen. A disappointment of mine is that few of these characters are focused upon as heavily as Charlie.
Snoopy is there too, of course, writing a novel about his WII pilot persona whilst also getting a love interest in the form of a dog voiced by Kristin Chenoweth, who has previously played Charlie Brown on Broadway. Small world.
Another relatively well-known star is musician Trombone Shorty, whose trademark instrument provides the “wah-wah” language spoken by all the adults in the Peanuts universe. I guess that too counts as a good choice on the filmmakers’ part.
It still makes me glad to think of how much this movie manages to get right in spite of the updated animation technique. The CGI is animated and stylized in a way that evokes the look and feel of the original cartoons (sometimes with the original’s 2D elements outright spliced into the movie), instead of looking more generic like the aformentioned Smurfs movie or even some of Pixar’s latest contributions, and the score by Cristophe Beck and known jazz pianist David Benoit has a similar effect. On that note, however, I am sad to say that there are some modern-day kid’s film gimmicks that have managed to bleed through here and there.
Besides the score, you see, the soundtrack features an uninteresting pop song by Meghan Trainor and even a track by Flo Rida. I’m not sure when the world is going to catch on that featuring mainstream-successful songs is not a requirement to make a great film for children or a great film in general – especially if it happens to be pop – but I’m beginning to doubt that it’s soon. As much as I enjoyed Peanuts in spite of all this, I’m starting to think that the animation masterpiece I’m truly looking for this year is Charlie Kaufman‘s Anomalisa, which I hope gets released here in time for me to put in on my annual “Favorites” list. I know, I know, “Top 10” lists don’t need to be released at a specific date and don’t only need to encompass the films you yourself saw during the year, but that’s the tradition I have so screw all y’all.
Will I be putting Peanuts on my list? It’s possible I grant it a spot solely due to how beautifully unique the animation is and how well-handled the tone and characters are, but considering all the great movies I’ve seen this year (some of them, like Birdman, technically being 2014 films but let’s not get technical) I might make this one a runner-up lest I expand it into a “Top 12” list instead of “Top 10”. Kinda funny what a good movie year I’ve had in spite of 2015 being the year of Fifty Shades and that one Wachowski movie of which we shall speak nevermore.
Down below is a trailer for the movie and my rating. Again, what a fun animation style! I’m almost glad no one else is doing it because it makes films like this all the more lovable.