VOD film review: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
What have we learned, Charlie Brown?8
Nathanael Smith | On 19, Nov 2016
Director: Steve Martino
Cast: Noah Schnapp,Bill Melendez, Anastasia Bredikhina, Kristin Chenoweth
Watch The Peanuts Movie online in the UK: Disney+ UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
The Peanuts Movie, at first glance, is an unremarkable proposition. A familiar property remade in CG animation by Blue Sky. Yet within five minutes, after you’ve heard the first “Good grief” and seen Snoopy do his first victory dance on top of his iconic doghouse, it becomes clear that you are watching something made with real love, talent and wit.
Part of the immense appeal of the film is the inherent charm of its source material. The Peanuts comics are so gently delightful and their familiar flourishes – kazoo-voiced, invisible adults, the kid named Schroeder, who always has a piano to hand – are gags that never stop being entertaining. This is a film about childhood; the absence of older figures perfectly captures the sensation of your world as a child seeming entirely separate and wholly important. The sincerity and warmth of Peanuts in conveying the trials and triumphs of childhood is so winsome that it’s likely to invoke Proustian rushes in the viewer.
Yet good source material does not automatically make a good film and the Peanuts Movie is successful, because it has been adapted it so well. For starters, it’s beautifully animated, using cutting-edge technology to recreate the look of the comics and cartoons. It’s a soft, almost tactile form of CG that feels a world away from the bright, popping colours of Zootropolis or Finding Dory. Although animated on computers, it’s given a handmade, retro look, thanks to details such as movement lines around the characters and a scratchy, faux-hand-drawn outlines. It’s a film that revels in small details, such as floating love hearts leaving an imprint in the snow. The overall effect is gorgeous.
One of the film’s bold decisions, in the age of the hyperactive kids’ film, is to pace the movie in a resolutely Peanuts way. One or two dance sequences to a Meghan Trainor song and half-hearted fantasy action sequences are the only attempts at bringing this film up to date with modern sensibilities. Otherwise, it maintains a measured speed and the film consists largely of vignettes, as Charlie wrestles with a series of moral decisions. The ‘drama’ amounts to getting the wrong test results, learning to dance and trying to fly a kite, yet each vignette is a perfectly formed mini-story. Whether kids raised on frenetic DreamWorks fare will be entertained is uncertain, but for the adults watching, it’s a refreshing delight.
The film as a whole feels very old-fashioned. There’s no definite period setting, but there is a conspicuous absence of mobile phones or any technology at all. All the children play outside with no parental supervision. These are the halcyon days of youth that everyone wishes or imagines their childhood was like. Yet in spite of feeling like it belongs in a different era, the world of Peanuts remains timeless. The large cast of characters are each immediately recognisable types that, although simple, feel immediately real. There’s the sporting-mad person, her put-upon intellectual friend and the kid who is constantly accompanied by a cloud of dirt.
At the centre of it all is the man himself, Charlie Brown, a hero for the ages, who feels painfully real. As he laments that “I just came down with a serious case of inadequacy” and fervently hopes that the new kid has never heard of him, the bafflingly bald kid speaks for us all. Yet in spite of his constant incompetence, he’s an inherently good person. The ‘be yourself’ message that plagues children’s cinema is here given the caveat that urges kids to be decent. Charlie sacrifices his own act at the talent show to help his sister and he chooses honesty over popularity. Sure, he can’t fly a kite, kick a football or pitch a baseball, but he has integrity and compassion. You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.
The Peanuts Movie is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.