Director: Steve Martino
This Christmas, going back home, I found myself staying in my old childhood bedroom. While it hasn’t been kept as an eerie museum piece, some accoutrements of my early years still remain. Largely the books. Among these, I was pleased to discover, where a few editions of Peanuts. Flicking through these, sat cross-legged in the corner of that room, I smiled recollecting the antics of this little gang. Snoopy and co. were never an important part of my childhood, but they may have helped sculpt my early impression of American youth; a world of snow days, ennui and kids wise beyond their years. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of my own world-weariness was blueprinted in those pages. It’s impossible to tell.
Blue Sky Studios’ modern take on Schulz’s comic strips could’ve been a disaster. They have a reputation for producing gaudy, crass entertainment devoid of nuance or subtlety, seemingly of the belief that sassy, wise cracking anthropomorphised animals represent the be-all and end-all of animated ambition. It’s fair to say that my years-long prejudice against CG animation was a product of coming into contact with their output. Fucking Ice Age for shit’s sake.
Fortunately The Peanuts Movie sees them turning a corner. Director Steve Martino has ensured that the style and tone of the original material has remained in tact, while updating the look of the series without sacrificing its innate charm. As such the film takes place in a world that blends 2D and 3D sensibilities. The characters retain their hand-drawn expressions, and move in a manner that suggests 2D, yet exist in a largely 3D environment. On paper these elements should work against each other, but in practice it works just as The Lego Movie‘s faux stop-motion did. The Peanuts Movie feels handmade. By extension the graft of the animators is transferred from the screen to the audience. It feels like a labor of love.
The studio’s penchant for the madcap has also been toned down. Sure, there are times when the action of The Peanuts Movie feels a hair more hectic than Schulz’ more frequent thoughtfulness, but it’s never too much. These moments may pander to keep the attention of younger viewers, but they don’t rule the roost. They blend into the overall picture, which is appropriately episodic. The film has a narrative through line, sure, but, like the source, is happy to indulge in countless asides both comedic and contemplative.
What impresses further is how well Martino segues between these moments. The Peanuts Movie rarely feels disjointed or rambling. It’s all part of a whole, delightfully messy as that may be. It pretty much makes this a win-win. Adults looking for some nostalgia will feel as though their childhood hasn’t been trampled on because Martino nails the tone, while kids get a constantly mutating, consistently entertaining intro to a world that is now in its seventh decade of success.
Snoopy and Woodstock don’t talk, mercifully, instead providing most of the movie’s more outlandish comic asides and flights of fancy. In the main, the film finds neurotic Charlie Brown trying to come to terms with his crush on a new red-haired girl who has moved to town, while his friends try to help him wrangle his bumbling self-doubt and clumsiness into a more successful, confident presentation. As this proves, against the odds and through some dumb luck, to be a success, Lucy grows more and more exasperated. It’s all incredibly fun, while carrying with it a message about believing in yourself that isn’t too bludgeoning.
For longtime fans, the gang’s all here and presented faithfully; Marcie with her delightful penchant for calling Peppermint Patty ‘sir’; Patty herself, the smart-mouthed tomboy; Linus with his blanket etc. The voice acting across the board sells it. The cast is almost totally devoid of distracting or familiar star names – another smart move on Martino’s part. It lends the film a sense of humble authenticity.
Against all expectations, this really is the movie you want it to be.
And it exists within those limits. It’s small-scale, content with itself. So while it doesn’t show the genre-bending ambition of, say, The Lego Movie or aim for the same emotional connectivity of Inside Out (that would be a big ask), it is a success on its own terms.
There’s a level of charm here which will cross age boundaries. The kids will hopefully enjoy it for what it is; a passing confection. Adults, meanwhile, can file this beside the likes of the aforementioned The Lego Movie or Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox as a title that breezily hurdles the “it’s for the little ones” excuse when visitors spot it on the DVD shelf.
So there you have it. A Blue Sky Studios film with a big heart that I’d be happy to revisit anytime.