Everything in The Peanuts Movie is just how we remember it, with no silly reimaginings that try to “make the story relevant”
It’s okay to feel a little trepidation before going to see The Peanuts Movie. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that the powers that be decided what the world really needed was a Muppets television show full of penis jokes and pessimistic cruelty. If the folks entrusted with Jim Henson’s creations were willing to submit Kermit and Fozzy to that kind of butchery, why should Charlie Brown and Snoopy be any safer? Well, let those trepidations slide away, because, to paraphrase Charles M. Schulz, happiness is a film about a warm puppy. The best way to describe The Peanuts Movie is that it is refreshingly … Peanuts.
The story is as simple as it gets. When Charlie Brown becomes smitten with the little redheaded girl who just moved in across the street, everybody’s favorite perennial loser embarks on a campaign to prove he’s worthy of the girl’s attention by finally winning something, anything, just once in his life. To this end he attempts to secure a victory in a number of ways, from participating in the school talent competition to seeking the gold star for best book report to learning how to dance. There’s just one problem. As a good friend once explained to him, out of all the Charlie Browns in the world, Charlie Brown is the Charlie Browniest.
Incredibly, The Peanuts Movie never loses sight of this. In fact, all the characterizations are spot on. Lucy is still the fussbudget with a 5-cent psychiatry stand, Linus is still the soulful thinker dragging around his ever-present security blanket, Schroeder is still obsessed with Beethoven, Sally is still obsessed with Linus, and Snoopy … well, he’s Snoopy. When he’s not trying to help Charlie Brown, Snoopy’s time onscreen is spent lost in his own World War I fantasy world in which he attempts to save his dream girl from the clutches of the dreaded Red Baron.
If this all sounds familiar, it most definitely is. Everything in The Peanuts Movie is just how we remember it, with no silly reimaginings to try to “make the story relevant” to any of today’s cause célèbres. Even the world the characters inhabit remains mostly timeless, without so much as a computer or cell phone in sight. Sure, a few light pop songs do creep into the soundtrack, but they’re mostly innocuous and blend in fairly well with Vince Guaraldi’s classic themes. It’s all topped off with a unique animation style that flattens the computerized images to both simulate Peanuts’ comic strip origins and call back to the classic hand drawn television specials.
There is hardly anything new in The Peanuts Movie and, for perhaps the only time ever in a movie review, that is meant as a compliment of the highest order. Unlike the aforementioned Muppets, the people behind The Peanuts Movie (which includes Charles Schulz’s son and grandson) trust their brand to display the same appeal it has for more than 50 years, and that trust pays off in the end results.
And why not? After all, there’s good reason Schulz’s creation has been published in 75 countries and been adapted to stage and screen, and that reason is best exemplified in a single moment near the end of The Peanuts Movie. (This is a slight spoiler, but if you’re at all familiar with the world of Peanuts, you already knew this was coming.) After all of Charlie Brown’s efforts have come to no avail and he’s reached the breaking point, he stands alone at the top of a hill staring heavenward and says a small but heartfelt prayer to God to please, just once, let something go right for him.
It’s not just that it’s an unabashed religious moment in a children’s movie (which I wholeheartedly approve of, of course) but that it’s a profoundly human moment, one that only the hardest of atheist hearts could find fault with. It’s been said a million times, but it still holds true, in his insecurities and his weaknesses and his despair, Charlie Brown is all of us. He does his best to do what is right and decent, not just for himself, but for those he loves, yet he never sees any reward for it. Or does he? Yes, there’s a lesson at the end of The Peanuts Movie, and yes, it’s a lesson we’ve all heard before. There is nothing new in The Peanuts Movie, and it’s a better thing because of it.
In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by … watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.