Dear Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano,
Adaptations or remakes are generally tough to pull off. They require a careful balance between preserving the essence of the original, and making it new enough for there to be any point to the exercise. I’ve been a fan of Peanuts since I was a kid, but I honestly didn’t see Charles Schulz’s characters lending themselves too well to the high octane, pithy style of animated features we’re used to. A big part of the charm of Peanuts is its quiet simplicity. I was curious as to how (or even if) you would give the beloved cartoon enough verve and punch for the younger crowd while preserving the old-fashioned sweetness for those of us who crack up at the sound of Miss Othmar’s voice, and say ‘Oh, good grief’ like it’s still a thing.
A school year serves as a very basic narrative frame for The Peanuts Movie. There is no plot to speak of, just a series of events on the school calendar (first day, standardized test, school dance, etc.) loosely tied together by Charlie Brown’s quest to win the affections of the Little Readheaded Girl. There is some sort of parallel Flying Ace/Red Baron fantasy plot featuring Snoopy and Woodstock, and it’s cute enough, but given that they have more-than-ample screen time in the main plot, I’m not sure why this was necessary. There are a couple of points at which the two plotlines intersect quite cleverly, but they could have easily been stand-alone gags.
The biggest departure from the original comics and cartoons is the film’s visual aesthetic, which trades Schulz’s shaky pencilled lines for more a more solid, vivid look. It’s new, but maintains the softness and charm I’m used to. I also appreciated that the more outdated elements of the Peanuts world are left alone. Thank you for not swapping out the rotary phones with smart phones, and for making Charlie Brown fly an actual kite rather than struggle with some sort of Kite Krusher app.
The film is basically 90 minutes worth of Peanuts strips strung together and brought to life, and I was curious as to whether this would be a good or bad thing. Sure, Charlie Brown’s sad-sack meanderings are great in small doses, but I wasn’t sure sustained, feature-length sad-sackery would be all that appealing. However, this is where the rest of the Peanuts gang really shines. Seeing Charlie Brown through the eyes of characters like Linus and Sally lets us appreciate his loyalty and tenacity in between laughing at one botched undertaking after another.
Because there are so many quintessentially Peanuts elements that have to be included, the film feels like it’s checking things off a list of trademark gags and one-liners without much thought to how or where they actually fit into the narrative, or even if they need to be in there at all. There had to have been a better spot for the Charlie Brown/Lucy/football gag than being shoehorned into a few seconds during the end credits.
While The Peanuts Movie retains much of the charm of Schulz’s work, and has enough to entertain long-time fans as well as newer, younger audiences, it just didn’t appeal to me on the same level as the comic strips, or previous animated adaptations. For me, the beauty of Peanuts is how it invites you to linger over a single vignette, and The Peanuts Movie flips through its various antics and misadventures a little too quickly. Just my five cents’ worth – for the doctor’s cookie jar, of course.