By Richard Roeper
The Peanuts Movie
Directed by Steve Martino
YOU’RE IN GOOD HANDS, Charlie Brown.
Some 65 years after the launch of the much-beloved Peanuts comic strip and a half-century after the Golden Age of Charlie Brown TV specials, The Peanuts Movie arrives in theaters as a full-length, CGI, 3-D feature. That could have been a recipe for disaster and the source of outrage from the multigenerational legions of fans — but to my great relief and only the best kind of good grief, I’m pleased to report this is a meticulously faithful and clearly loving tribute to America’s favorite blockhead.
This movie hugs you, and you want to hug it back.
The sometimes coldly efficient worlds of digital animation and gimmicky 3-D seem miles apart from the wonderfully crude line drawings of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, but director Steve Martino and the army of skilled technicians that created The Peanuts Movie have done a wonderful job of capturing the familiar, old-school movements and facial expressions of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of the gang.
Thankfully, The Peanuts Movie is set in Charlie Brown Land, a pleasant warp of time and place somewhere around the late 1950s or early 1960s, if you had to peg it.
There’s not a computer or a cellphone in sight. Typewriters, landlines and pencils rule the day. (The only apparent anachronism I spotted: plastic blue recycling bins.)
Young actor Noah Schnapp (Tom Hanks’ son in Bridge of Spies) is spot-on with his voice work as Charlie Brown. (Schnapp sounds just enough like Peter Robbins, the child actor who voiced Charlie Brown on the TV shows in the 1960s, without it becoming a flat-out impersonation.)
Good ol’ Chuck is just as we remember him: awkward and clumsy and self-effacing, good of heart and true of spirit, always hoping today will be the day when he’ll fly that kite or score that goal or kick that football or win that girl’s heart without messing up royally.
Everyone else is where they should be:
• Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) is dispensing advice for five cents a pop and mooning over Beethoven-loving Schroeder (Noah Johnston).
• Linus (Alexander Garfin) is clinging to his blanket, giving Charlie Brown pep talks and trying to avoid the amorous advances of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally (Mariel Sheets).
• Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis), Marcie (Rebecca Bloom), Pig-Pen (A.J. Tecce), et al., are on hand as the Geek chorus to comment on Charlie Brown’s latest misadventures.
And then there’s Snoopy, the greatest comic book/cartoon dog EVER, and his partner in crime and humor, Woodstock. Through the miracle of archival audio magic, the late, great Bill Melendez voices Snoopy and Woodstock in The Peanuts Movie, just as he did in the classic TV specials. (Melendez was a character animator and director who actually adapted Schulz’s comic strip into the most famous and successful of the Charlie Brown TV specials.) When Snoopy laughs or Woodstock chirps in this movie, we’re hearing the same laughs and chirps audiences heard a half-century ago. Pretty neat.
The main story in The Peanuts Movie is all about Charlie Brown’s attempts to impress the new transfer student in class, none other than the Little Red-Haired Girl, but of course it’s really about the sense of community among Chuck and his friends, and how he’s a good man even when his actions seem like the work of a blockhead.
As much as I love Snoopy, for me the only foot-tapping moments of impatience in The Peanuts Movie occurred during some of the fantasy sequences when “The World War I Flying Ace” engaged in battles with the Red Baron and fell in love with the fetching Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth). Snoop’s at his best when he’s trying to impersonate a kid so he can go to school, or when he’s encouraging Charlie Brown to be the best Charlie Brown he can be.
I loved the spare but appropriate use of touchstone musical works by Vince Guaraldi, including “Linus and Lucy.” Musical prodigy Trombone Shorty does cool work as the “Wah-Wah” voice of adult teachers and parents. This movie SOUNDS right.
Even the less-than-subtle attempt to inject a bit of modern pop into the story is more infectious than irritating. Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin’” doesn’t exactly fit the tone of the film, but it’s a catchy little number accompanying Charlie Brown’s earnest attempt to become a dancer after he discovers the Little Red-Haired Girl likes to cut the rug.
This is a sweet, funny, smart, genuine all-ages movie with simple, timeless messages. Prepare the cockles of your heart to be warmed.
Rating: Three stars and a half
MTRCB Rating: G