by Patrick Bromley
Before my showing of The Peanuts Movie this weekend, the latest attempt to revive Charles M. Schulz's beloved characters and their first feature-length outing since 1980's Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back), I was subjected to a barrage of trailers for upcoming movies aimed at children -- children roughly the same age as my own, who were with me at the screening. To see trailers for the likes of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and The Angry Birds Movie is to gain greater appreciation for just how sweet and gentle The Peanuts Movie is. It's very clear that everyone involved with the film -- including Schulz's son Craig and grandson Bryan (who contributed to the screenplay) and producer Paul Feig -- wanted to do right by these characters and make a film you'd be happy for your kids to see. At this, they have succeeded.
But they don't. The Peanuts Movie is true to the spirit of the characters and the comic strip and, save for a few of those stupid dance pop songs on the soundtrack, feels timeless. At first, it actually tries too hard to be faithful to its source, cramming in as many fan service-y references as it can in its opening minutes. Eventually it settles down to tell its own story, essentially a feature-length adaptation of one of the original Peanuts strips in which Charlie Brown feels anxiety about the little redhead girl in class. Here she's a new student who inspires Charlie Brown to impress her through a series of would-be accomplishments, whether it's winning a dance contest or performing in a talent show or reading and completing a book report on War and Peace in the span of a weekend. His failures to succeed at anything can be a little tough to take in the early going -- the movie could easily have been retitled The Passion of the Peanut -- but by the time we get to see Charlie Brown perform a totally selfless act for his younger sister Sally the movie finds its big, beating heart.
I like the animation, too. It's basically impossible to think that Fox and Blue Sky (who remind us that they are responsible for Ice Age by running an insufferably shrill "Skrat" short before Peanuts) would release a traditionally hand-drawn Peanuts feature in 2015 -- the wonderful and criminally underrated Winnie the Pooh taught us that lesson -- so the animators and director Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who!) cleverly make the computer animation look a lot like an old Rankin/Bass stop motion joint by giving the characters slightly jerky movements and a lot of fuzzy textures. It gives the film enough of a '60s vibe despite the contemporary techniques being used to give the grownups in the audience fond feelings of the Golden Age of Peanuts.