The Peanuts Movie, bringing to life the wonderful characters of Charles Schulz under the direction of Steve Martino, is endearing, adorable, and a perfect introduction of these nostalgic characters to modern-day animation. To clarify any matters of personal bias, I’ve watched the Charlie Brown holiday specials every year since I was a kid; they are a traditional part of my autumn and winter festivities. Thus, I clearly have no prior opinions and am certainly not predisposed towards fondness. Clearly.
The plot follows Charlie Brown as he attempts to attract the attention of the little red-haired girl, the new kid in town and his immediate crush. Unfortunately, any direct attempts at friendship are thwarted by his personal convictions of inadequacy. Meanwhile, Snoopy returns to his typewriter and, with assistance from the red pen-wielding Woodstock, imagines himself once again as a flying ace, entering aerial combat against the devious Red Baron to save Fifi, a skilled pilot and Snoopy’s companion in flirtatiousness.
The main drawback to The Peanuts Movie is its tendency to sideline the extended cast. Unfortunately, the extended cast includes everyone not Charlie Brown and Snoopy themselves. Personalities remain intact, of course. Lucy is an abrasive bully and Linus carries his distinctive blue blanket while dispensing sage advice; Sally is kindhearted and in pursuit of her sweet babboo (and demonstrates impressive business acumen), while Peppermint Patty, master of sportsball, remains infatuated with “Chuck.” The building blocks of each character are present and accounted for, but they feel more like necessary scenery than fully fledged characters.
Linus, Charlie Brown’s perennial best friend and sounding board, in particular has his role in the narrative co-opted by Snoopy. On the one hand, this opens the door to spectacularly touching moments between a boy and his dog as Snoopy encourages, supports, and teaches Charlie Brown to dance. This choice also increases the sense of isolation developed between good ole Charlie Brown and his peers, which is thematically key as he rises to popularity. But on the other hand, Linus becomes such a comparatively minor role that it is almost like he’s there just because you can’t have the Peanuts gang without him.
That being said, The Peanuts Movie is a delight to watch and, based on the squeals of laughter coming from the youngest audience members, has more than a few hilarious moments for its target demographic. The animation is charming and cheery, filled with bright colors and with numerous visual callbacks to both the comics and the hand-drawn animation of the television specials. The cast of kid voice actors perfectly revives these miniature adults as they struggle through talent shows, school dances, and the hardships of being an entrepreneur when consumers have no concept of brand loyalty.
Most importantly, Charlie Brown’s story offers a lesson in how to achieve goals and be ambitious without losing compassion. Early on, and with the psychiatric help of Lucy guiding him, he decides he needs to Be A Winner. The path to success sets him against both internal and external trials, the hardest of which to overcome is his fear and anxiety. He practices all night long to learn magic tricks and sweet dance moves, he pulls an all-nighter to write the most impressive book report to ever grace grade school eyes, and when all of Charlie Brown’s plans inevitably slide askew, he’s consistently willing to surrender his personal goals to help other people. The Peanuts Movie is a self-esteem roller coaster for Charlie Brown, but it is also his gradual rise to self-confidence while being the kindhearted kid everyone wishes they were at that age.
In short, Charlie Brown’s superpower is heart, and if you nurture a soft spot for the Peanuts crew, your heart will be glad after watching this movie.
Personal Rating: 8/10, for overwhelmingly adorable friendship and innocence
The Kids in Charge: Noah Schnapp (Charlie Brown), Hadley Miller (Lucy), Mariel Sheets (Sally), Alexander Garfin (Linus), and Francesca Capaldi (the little red-haired girl)
Genres: kids will be kids, happiness, butterflies and light, action-adventure (Snoopy is the quintessential action hero)