Hello, fellow Peanuts fans! I've just watched the new Peanuts movie (in 3D) and thought I'd write up a review while the whole experience is still fresh in my mind. First off, I'm just gonna state the obvious and warn you that this review will contain some spoilers, particularly when I'm talking about the story.
Now, I have to admit something. When I first heard that Peanuts was being brought to the big screen with the use of CG animation, I was a little on the skeptical side. Would a new production team be loyal to the comic strips? Would the movie's atmosphere need to be contemporary to appeal to a modern audience, and would that work with the style of humour? Would the characters stay true to their personalities? Would the writers respect the wishes of late creator Charles Schulz and not go making changes he wouldn't have approved of? I had a lot of worries, and I think they were fair things to worry about too!
But, here's the good news - the production team did
respect Schulz's wishes. They didn't go changing the characters or the scenarios. As always, all love is unrequited, good ol' Charlie Brown can never catch a break, but every little victory (as insignificant as it may seem) he enjoys and appreciates. Charles Schulz wrote the comic strips for nearly 50 years; he retired in early 2000 and died shortly after. He stated that no one was given permission to continue writing for Peanuts, and as such, any animated media produced from now on can only contain content from (or close enough to) his own comic strips. There are certain things that must not be changed about the characters and setting, and I think that if he was around today to watch the movie, he would be proud.
The plot is fairly simple, but put together nicely, and the dialogue and other antics are for the most part taken (sometimes directly) from various comic strips. The movie starts by introducing us to the cast of characters and getting a little taste of their personalities. Enter Charlie Brown, and all of his clumsy, unfortunate antics that get him (and everyone around him) in trouble. I imagine most people who watch this movie are already familiar with the characters, but if you're not, you'll have an idea of what to expect from Charlie Brown by now.
Suddenly, the neighbourhood kids notice that a new family has moved in. Charlie Brown sees this as an opportunity to reinvent himself and make a good first impression, but that's easier said that done when it's love at first sight for him! Now, Charlie Brown may not have the best of luck in life, but he's not one to give up. He puts in his best effort to turn his life around and become a winner. We see him prepare for a talent show, learning how to dance, and put himself through a lot when trying to write a book report on War and Peace... only for things to never quite work out how he hopes they will. At one point in the movie, he actually achieves celebrity status within his school for getting a perfect score on a test... until he finds out he put his name on the wrong paper.
There's a love story for Snoopy too - emphasis on "story". In a side plot, Snoopy and Woodstock discover a typewriter early on, and Snoopy begins writing his own epic novel about the adventures of the WWI Flying Ace. Charlie Brown's attempts to introduce himself to the Little Red-Haired Girl inspire Snoopy to give the Flying Ace a beagle-poodle crossbreed love interest, and a model plane gone astray influences his character's conflict with the Red Baron. When Snoopy occasionally gets a little too wrapped up in his story, Woodstock is there to slap some sense back into him!
I was wondering how they would end the movie, and think they did it in the best way possible. It turns out the Little Red-Haired Girl has noticed Charlie Brown, and that she thinks he's worth being friends with. She leaves for summer camp but the two have already arranged to be pen pals. While Charlie Brown's love is not exactly requited, this is more than he could have ever hoped for and the movie has a happy ending. Even Lucy has to admit he is full of surprises! Good ol' wishy-washy Charlie Brown.
I wasn't expecting much of a story, as I knew it was being put together from script mostly written by Schulz from his comic strips, but it was done very well all the while being faithful to the original material. The events were predictable, but in the way that you'd want them to be; that is, we know that whatever Charlie Brown's doing is going to go wrong, but if everything worked out perfectly for him then that
would be wrong. And they gave the story a happy ending without having Charlie Brown and his love interest really couple up.
This is the first time 3D computer-generated animation has been used for a Peanuts film. It sounds like it shouldn't work, and honestly, I wasn't expecting it to a while back. But the movie wasn't animated using just one technique. Instead, they tastefully and artistically mixed the CG animation with traditional frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation. There were short sequences in which Charlie Brown would flashback to his past fails, and we would see a hand-drawn sequence of him trying to kick the football or being hit by a baseball on the pitcher's mound. Sometimes speech bubble would appear from Woodstock when he chirped, and the thump of Charlie Brown falling to the ground would be accompanied by the word "WUMP!" written in large, thick, cartoony letters. The mix of both animation techniques looked absolutely gorgeous, and the 2D helped keep the feel of the fact that this movie is based on a comic strip.
Everything was textured beautifully. Snoopy was fluffy, Woodstock had a subtle arrangement of feathers on his head, Charlie Brown's shorts were made of corduroy, a nice wood texture was used on Snoopy's doghouse, and there was a lake with some very nicely animated water. For the majority of the movie, it seemed that most of it could have been done in 2D, because they used the same sort of camera angles as they did in the old cartoons. The texturing, however, is something you can't do in 2D frame-by-frame. You can't redraw that detail for every 24th of a second! However, we did get to see them make great use of 3D animation and more creative cinematography in Snoopy's WWI Flying Ace sequences. Sometimes, it felt like those sequences went on for a bit too long, especially as they didn't have much to do with the main story (other than being inspired by certain events from it), but I didn't mind because it meant more screen time for Snoopy and the 3D animators got to show off their skills!
Here's where the movie could have fallen completely flat, had they not got this right. But it didn't, and everyone was nicely in character. Charlie Brown was lovable and sympathetic, and had the same amount of pessimism and determination as he's always had. Snoopy was completely adorable with oodles of energy and personality, and his antics and expressions were just perfect.
Voice-acting wise, everyone was cast really well. The other major characters were pretty much spot-on too. Linus wise beyond his years, Lucy as difficult as always for the others to get along with, Woodstock sweet, Schroeder had his "classy" and "proper" moments, Peppermint Patty tomboyish, Marcie her every supportive lackey, and Pig-Pen enjoying his filth. I did think that Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally, was perhaps more compassionate in the movie than she ever really was in the comic strips, but this wasn't enough to really change her personality and I liked seeing this side of her. Plus, I loved seeing her cash in on her brother's celebrity status; that is exactly
the kind of thing she would do!
A lot of Vince Guaraldi's music written for the old TV specials was used in the movie, which really helped maintain the atmosphere we're all used to. The original recording of "Christmas Time is Here" even got used in a short scene. A lot of background music reminiscent of that of Steve Jablonsky's was used too (think Desperate Housewives
) and although it was a little different to Guaraldi's trademark jazz, it was a treat to listen to and suited the movie very well. Some modern music was used too, particularly at the school dance and leading up to it, which set the scene nicely.
Even though some of the music was completely different to what we're used to in anything Peanuts, nothing felt out of place or surprising in a bad way. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at how diverse the soundtrack could be when I was not used to hearing anything other than jazz (and of course a bit of Beethoven!) in Peanuts animation. I think it was a gamble to do this, but it worked in their favour. Plus, the chicken dance music when Charlie Brown was learning how to dance was priceless.
Overall Enjoyment Value
Honestly, I loved it, and I think I've made that pretty obvious by now. I was a little nervous because, having been a fan of Peanuts longer than I can even remember (my parents tell me that Snoopy was my first love!) I was worried that any inaccuracies or out-of-character moments would cause me to hate this movie. But that didn't happen. It was great. The adults didn't talk - they made trombone noises. Charlie Brown missed the football. And we never saw the bottom of Snoopy's doghouse in the Flying Ace scenes.
The comedy is really good. It's quite upbeat compared to the older cartoons, as you can imagine, because that's how all animation is nowadays. It doesn't detract from the typical Peanuts humour though - that style of comedy actually works just as well. I should also mention that it's not overly hyperactive like some things, and I think they did a good job with the pacing and timing of the comedy. It's fast enough to appeal to the younger generation, but not so rapid-fire that older fans will find it distasteful or "too much".
The movie is chock full of charm and all the characters are appealing in their own ways, but I can imagine some viewers feeling lost if they are completely unfamiliar with the Peanuts franchise. There are a lot of in-jokes; some of which can be appreciated without prior knowledge of the comic strip but likely enjoyed more by those who are already fans. For example, if you don't know much about Schroeder but enjoy a bit of random humour, you might be amused at him keeping a piano in his school desk, but fans of the comic are more likely to laugh at it more.
(Personally, what made me laugh the most was one of the background dancers. Sure, they were all funny references to the Christmas special, but in one shot there was a guy at the far left of the screen with the most serious/angry expression while doing a really silly dance. I still grin about it whenever I think about it!)
This movie is also a real treat for those of you who can appreciate artsy creativity, because like I mentioned before there are some great moments in which the animators use 2D and 3D together in a really appealing way. It doesn't look out of place, it just reminds us that this all originated from a charming, hand-drawn comic strip. You know, just in case the amount of constant charm in the film didn't already remind you of that!
So there we go! A fantastic movie and a real treat for all Peanuts fans. I can't wait for it to be released on DVD!