Animated Anarchy cracks open the biggest, reintroduction of a classic cartoon this year by reviewing The Peanuts Movie!
Charles Schulz’s seminal comic strip Peanuts is an American pop culture staple. There is no bigger influence from the funny pages than Schulz’s timely, relatable stories featuring Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and Woodstock. Some people read from the newspapers and others watched the classic television movies, but we all know the legacy of Peanuts thanks to Schulz’s simplistic charms, witty observations, and endearing characters.
I’d identify myself as a casual Peanuts fan, reading strips and watching the holiday specials when they came TV. There was also a brief period where Cartoon Network would air old cartoon specials and I’d catch movies like Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home. The Peanuts were fun and light, but I never really could get into the series aside from being an annual tradition. I know many people hold the original A Boy Named Charlie Brown in high regard for its serious themes, but for the longest time I only cared for the familiarity of Charlie Brown’s foibles, but the strip still managed to surprise me.
Most fans of Peanuts weren’t exactly swelling up with pride seeing that Blue Sky Studios would be animating the new movie. Blue Sky is often viewed as a second-string Dreamworks, whose only claims to fame with Ice Age and Rio have already lost their luster. Although I’m a big defender of the first Ice Age movie, there hasn’t been any other movie in their catalog to touch the original’s quality. And as time’s gone on, the number of headache-inducing sequels and Scrat shorts always kept my care for the studio at arms length. We were hooked with potential seeing the first trailer, but everyone groaned when that insufferable “All I do is win” song trumpeted Charlie Brown’s success. There was nothing left to do but pray and hope that Blue Sky Studio would elevate above mediocrity.
To give credit where credit was due, the CGI used to create the Peanuts is simply phenomenal. Blue Sky Studios used a method they would call “UVN transformation”, where the character models would be made outside of UV texture grid and shrink wrapped to give off the no-outline appearance. The look can be similar to clay stop-motion or paper cutouts, but evolves beyond the boundaries by matching Schulz’s iconic techniques.
All the backgrounds are static, yet the poses have dynamic strength. The animation uses jagged, slow movements akin to the holiday specials. You get small, detailed touches as well by seeing the stray hairs on Snoopy or dirt emitted from PigPen. The setting stays retro with the characters using rotary phones and playing outside without assisted technology. I believe this new aesthetic will overtake the traditional style of animation for Peanuts as Blue Sky Studios has created their best picture visually and creatively.
The Peanuts Movie can work as a perfect origin for the fans and newcomers alike following several months in the life of the ever-unlucky Charlie Brown. As he becomes instantly smitten with a new “Little Red-Headed Girl”, he becomes determined to finally be a winner. Throughout the seasons, Charlie Brown wonders if he can really succeed despite his shortcomings with the school dance, talent show, and a large-scale book report. He reaches for begrudging advice from Lucy while dealing with his annoying sister Sally, but continues to get reassurance from Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie. Along with his faithful, artistic, and obscenely talented dog Snoopy, Charlie Brown discovers if he can really be a successful and good person by the end of the school year.
Blue Sky Studios delivered on exactly what anyone would have wanted with Peanuts. The Peanuts Movie is undeniably charming because it keeps the poise and simple pleasures of the original comic. The structure is tied together through several vignettes, but it captures the slice-of-life essence beautifully, even with Snoopy’s side plot involving The Red Baron. The characters of Peanuts will always remind people of their childhood, since the dialogue and relationships are intelligent, yet innocent enough to be believable. I could feel my heart warm up as I watched the story play out thanks to Charlie Brown’s perseverance.
Schulz knew how to make Charlie Brown relatable by making him earnest and virtuous in spite of his numerous failures. There’s potential to be great, but Chuck’s anxiousness would usually be his downfall. His internal conflict is to be good, even though it feels like he can never quite win. I loved that the film gave him an appropriate number of victories for all his mishaps, even though you could construe he begs for too much without changing.
On the other hand, Snoopy is the glue that keeps everything together. His interstitial antics drifting into The Red Baron subplot or teaching Charlie how to dance or do magic keep the film fresh throughout the running time. There was a general fear that children would get bored watching a slice-of-life cartoon, but Snoopy and Woodstock (whom were dubbed by Bill Melendez’s archival recordings) provide the laughs you want from their moments of sudden outburst. My favorite gag in the movie is when Snoopy is imaging his trudge back to the airport base, while he interrupts the kids singing and hangs on Peppermint Patty’s lights.
I can’t emphasize enough that the look Blue Sky Studios encapsulated is what makes the film feel so genuine. No cynicism, no modern references other than to the original strip, and no need to force hip, trendy topics. Even the songs by Flo Rida and Meghan Trainer are unobtrusive enough to never break your enjoyment. Christopher Beck’s score has this orchestrated whimsy that makes the seasons so fun, while using and rearranging the classic Vince Guaraldi tracks.
My only knock towards the movie is that it doesn’t feel like a movie you necessarily need to see in theaters. I believe the visuals will transfer beautifully onto smaller screens and none of the actual animation is very taxing thanks to their use of a Suction Cup rig. The kids will be stimulated from the bombastic colors and freak-outs during the Red Baron scenes, but it remains the classic Peanuts that you love. The purity of Linus, Lucy, Sally, Franklin, The Little Red-Haired Girl, and Charlie Brown will win you over. I imagine the Schulz family is beaming with pride creating another traditional, heartwarming tenant of greatness like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown before it.
My Arbitrary Rating for The Peanuts Movie: 8 out of 10 Kites Stuck up a Tree.
Thanks for waiting for this admittedly late review as I covered for the Usual Suspects. We’ve just past the 1-Year-Anniversary of Animated Anarchy where I was able to write some of my favorite articles praising brilliant, new ideas and tearing others to pieces. A lot has changed within the medium in the past year and I plan to stay on track covering new movies, show, and artistry.
I’d like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for reading and following along with my contributions. But as the year is creeping up on us, we must get back into the tradition of every film reviewing websites…the list. What will I cover next time? Tune in a week from now and find out!