Nowadays, “Charlie Brown” and “major motion picture” do not seem like they should be together in the same sentence. After the major disasters that were “The Lorax” and the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films, the expectations for Blue Sky Studios’ “The Peanuts Movie,” an adaptation of Charles Schulz’s comic strip, were that it’d be yet another pop song-laden, tween-pandering mess of a movie.
It was more than pleasantly surprising, however, that it isn’t. In fact, the film is quite possibly one of the best, if not the actual best, animated films of the year.
The graphics and animation of this movie are incredible. The characters all move exactly like they would in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” — the sort of jutting walk cycles and mouth animations that have some occasional bouts of more fluid movement.
In that way, the film perfectly blends elements both old and new. The textures also deserve praise. The clothes look like someone cut out bits of felt, fabric and denim and animated them into the film, while the characters themselves look like they are painted by hand.
The movie is all-around aesthetically amazing. Even the soundtrack adds to that. Anything that wasn’t already written by Vince Guaraldi was made to sound a lot like it, creating the perfect sort of ambiance for the movie.
The plot revolves around Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and his attempts at becoming popular and impressing the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) who is finally given an on-screen appearance as opposed to only being mentioned in the comics.
The story spans an entire school year from fall to summer and follows Charlie’s misadventures through a talent show, a school dance and a book report, all while being laughed at by Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller). There to aid him are his best friend Linus (Alexander Garfin) and his pet dog Snoopy (voiced using archived files from the late Bill Melendez’s performance in “Christmas” and “Thanksgiving”).
The beginning of the film seems to focus too much on the oft-repeated and rather awful idea of the dichotomy between “winners” and “losers,” with Charlie being the biggest “loser” of them all. Each trial Charlie goes through shows that being popular does not mean that you are doing the right thing and that doing the right thing might not lead you to being “popular.”
However, there is not any sort of popular, preppy bully Charlie has to square off against, and Charlie is not maligned for his choices. The lesson isn’t that obvious or forced upon younger audiences. In fact, it might even make you cry near the end.
Charlie’s quest for self worth is interrupted at times by Snoopy’s daydreams of being an ace pilot in World War I, in which he is in a constant battle against the Red Baron. This, of course, is a reference to the many times this has happened in the comic strip, yet it also ties into the comic’s running gag of Snoopy being a sort of amateur writer, with the Red Baron story being the novel Snoopy taps away at with his typewriter.
While at times these daydream segments may feel a bit too long, they tie into Charlie’s story nicely, and have the added benefit of being visually impressive. While the rest of the movie works with 3D models on a mostly 2D plane, the Red Baron daydreams are in full 3D and are a spectacle to behold.
In fact, the majority of the movie is composed of these nods to the comics and older movies.
The references range from little skits from the films, such as “No Dogs Allowed,” to lines from the comic “Good Ol’ Charlie Brown” to even whole moments from both. Even Snoopy and Woodstock’s extended families show up, as a small bonus treat to “Peanuts” fans.
Honestly, the only thing seemingly worth complaining about is how the movie shoehorns pop songs by Meghan Trainor and Flo Rida. However, it’s more of a sign of the times than anything else and much like most of the movie, it just goes with the flow and isn’t too jarring.
“The Peanuts Movie” is and simultaneously isn’t a traditional Charlie Brown movie. It references the old, embraces the new, teaches a heartwarming lesson that, to be fair, is necessary nowadays and will quite possibly win your heart.
Basically, it’s just what you’d expect from good ol’ Charlie Brown.
“The Peanuts Movie” is now playing in theaters nationwide.