.‘The Peanuts Movie’

'The Peanuts Movie' gets the classic comic strip mostly right

EPIC FAIL: It’s well known that Charlie Brown can’t catch a break. ‘The Peanuts Movie’ breaks with that tradition.

It must be very tough to finance a movie in 2015 about a character who is known as “Failure Face.” So one makes allowances for The Peanuts Movie, for its frequent stops and starts and its upbeat ending. If there is maybe too much blockbustery Great War aerial action from Snoopy’s reveries, it’s very likable, often poignant, and, ultimately, protective of the delicate comic strip from which it was sourced.

This movie has a model, and it follows it: the still-watched TV specials starring Charlie Brown, produced by Burlingame’s Lee Mendelson—a Stanford creative writing grad and KPIX veteran, who set up his studio on the Peninsula. The score reuses some compositions by Vince Guaraldi, the jazz pianist who played his last set in 1976 at Butterfields nightclub on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. The Schulz signature is on the title and the end card, since the descendants of Charles Schulz were involved with the production. The 3D animation preserves the look of the characters, but the new animation gives them a warm, translucent peach-like glow.

Who can count the number of shy, strange and clumsy children that Charlie Brown solaced? He lived out Kafka’s comment, “In the battle between you and the world, back the world.” For years, as he appeared in one four-paneled cartoon after another, I hung upon his multiple failures in every field in which a boychild is supposed to excel, from kite flying to sports.

Even if The Peanuts Movie‘s director, Steve Martino, made Ice Age, it seems more of a vintage cartoon—free of contemporization and referential gags. The gang is kept in a kind of early 1960s Neverland, the sort of suburb that doesn’t much exist anymore—one poignancy for someone in my industry was a scene of Charlie Brown taking a huge stack of daily newspapers to the bin for recycling. A key scene takes place at a public library, strangely not packed with kids at computers.

In this 3D animated film, Charlie Brown becomes a minor celebrity in his school when he gets 100 points on a standardized test. This seemed strange, because it’s hard to imagine a school in which a really smart kid is also popular. The august Lucy Van Pelt, put in this world to remind Charlie of his insignificance, is shocked by the boy’s new status: “This is not easy for me! My whole world is turned upside down.”

The Lucy-Charlie relationship is as thorny as ever—he actually pays her a nickel to insult him, and her infernal glee at the still-hilarious trick with the football allows us, as always, the covert fun of imagining being a bully. The other characters are as you left them. There isn’t enough of the erudite Linus—who will no doubt grow up to be in the clergy, or become an academic—but plenty of the far more proactive Peppermint Patty (voiced by Venus Schultheis). She accurately represents those exuberant girls who become even more fun when they grow up. Too bad the poor, round-headed “Chuck” resists Patty. She could really wise him up.

And if the flying doghouse gets all the benefit of CG enhancement, the animators really win with Snoopy (voiced by loops of the late Bill Melendez with the same lunatic cackle the dog had on TV). Snoopy provides the pre-verbal humor, living out his fantasies as novelist, dance instructor and devil dog of World War I. He flies with the help of a hangar crew of Woodstock’s fellow goldfinches, arranged like winged versions of those ever-popular yellow Minions.

Since the film takes place over the course of a school year, The Peanuts Movie has a narrative thread—with a long winter giving way suddenly to late spring. The thaw witnesses Charlie Brown winning, instead of leaving him where he belongs, losing in hope of a later win.We realize that any of his victories are just there to set up more chagrin, and we realize that his spots of good luck are concessions to the age of the participation trophy… but in this version Charlie Brown even gets to talk with the Little Red Haired Girl—it’s like making a film in which Gatsby and Daisy get together in the end.

The Peanuts Movie

G; 93 MIN, Valleywide


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