"The whole world seems to be conspiring against me."
For men—and women—of a certain age, Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters are among the most cherished in all of popular culture. Therefore the prospect of these characters making their way to the big screen at a time when other beloved characters from the same time period (Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yogi Bear, The Smurfs) are being turned into shameless cash grabs is a tad disheartening. However, the advertising for 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Animation's The Peanuts Movie gave me hope that this would be different, and much like 2011's The Muppets, this is a big screen return to form for a property that hasn't had a lot of love in a very long time.
If the mark of a truly great children's film is that it can be enjoyed equally by all ages, The Peanuts Movie is an unqualified success. Foregoing the overused "origin story" that's so damn prevalent right now, The Peanuts Movie jumps right into its story without bothering to set everything up. Trusting that the audience is aware of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang saves valuable time, allowing the story room to breathe. Granted it's not much of a story, but that same statement can apply to virtually all of Schulz's work.
The casting of children to voice all of the roles was a brilliant move in that it not only keeps with the franchise's tradition of doing the same, but also lends the film an air of authenticity it may not otherwise have had. The most savvy move of all, however, was recycling the old voice work for Snoopy and Woodstock done by the late Bill Melendez. I'm sure there were ways around this and another voice actor would have done a perfectly competent job, but this decision adds a level of consistency to the franchise as a whole, helping it to stand out among its competitors.
There are little things sure to bug the purists in the audience—Lucy and Linus being in the same class, the complete absence of their younger brother Rerun, Frieda's hair being orange instead of red, etc.—but there's not a single change that's been made that could be considered a betrayal of the fans' loyalty. This is a film made with tender loving care for the source material, and imbued with a timelessness that will make it equally relevant to kids fifty years from now.
Director Steve Martino's recent output has been a mixed bag to say the least, but he got his start turning Monty Python films into video games in the late 90s. This film is much more in line with that brand of loving homage, and he proves a far cannier director than his work on the fourth Ice Agemovie would have led me to believe. The animation style is a gorgeous mix of 21st century computer animation and the hand-drawn aesthetics of the original strips and cartoon specials, and it works incredibly well in 3D making the $3 surcharge well worth it.
As a fan of the source material, a film fanatic, and a parent, The Peanuts Movie makes me about as happy as can be. Sure, there's not a whole lot of new ground covered here, particularly if you're a steeped in Peanuts lore, but at a time when playing it safe is about the best you can hope for as an audience member, this film gets it right across the board. Like a warm blanket, The Peanuts Movie delivers feelings of warmth, security, and happiness that are virtually impossible to find elsewhere at the multiplex at the moment.