For more than 60 years, a boy with just a tendril of hair who can’t fly a kite, is miserable at baseball and is constantly bested by girls and, often, by his dog has held a permanent space in hearts of people above a certain age. The best thing The Peanuts Movie does is not to try change any of the above.
What are the chances you would go to a cinema hall and watch kids do kid stuff, have kid concerns, suffer kid failures, and not have a larger life lesson thrown at you through 90 whole minutes? The film prominently gives Charles Schulz, the creator who zealously guaded his Peanuts comic strip, top billing, and his family holds the writing honours. Steered by them, The Peanuts Movie remains true to Schulz’s drawings and pen strokes — down to the two-dimensional sketches even in 3D — and his characters. The phone shakes high above the table when it rings, and you can see the flight path in spotted lines when a bird swoops down.
The story centres around two romances. One is Charlie Brown’s (Schnapp) for the Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi). Seen for the first time, in the only deviation from the comic strip, the Girl has a distinctly pointy nose. The other is Snoopy’s (voiced by Melendez) with Fifi (a new character, not in the Peanuts comic strip). Charlie Brown encounters the Girl after one more grievous afternoon trying to fly a kite or at least better his pitching skills — both to no effect. Snoopy, not surprisingly, imagines Fifi during one of his writing episodes on a typewriter that features him as a World War I Flying Ace pilot.
Throughout the film, as Charlie Brown hopes to woo the Little Red-Haired Girl over mundane achievements such as a talent show, winter dance, and even a book report (though he does finish War and Peace over a weekend), Snoopy daydreams about saving Fifi during the course of war and from abduction by the villainous Red Baron. A flaming-red, impressive plane, Red Baron gets an origin story with Linus (Garfin) bringing it for show and tell to school. Linus is Charlie Brown’s only real friend in the human world, and Garfin evokes the sturdy solemnity that sets him apart from other children well.
One can imagine Charlie’s predicaments through each effort to impress the Red-Haired Girl, and director Martino (Ice Age: Continental Drift; Horton Hears A Who!) does let the pace slack a bit as he makes his way to an end that has been long coming. The film also skirts the difficult questions that Charlie faced in the strip for large generalities. Still, like with Horton Hears A Who!, Martino shows a clear understanding of the material he is working with.
The choice of children voicing the characters is also inspired, including using the late Melendez’s work from earlier Peanuts productions for both Snoopy and his bird companion Woodstock. However, none is better than Sheets as Charlie Brown’s pesky and street smart little kid sister Sally Brown. One can easily see her sallying forth another 60 years without losing any of her curls.
As for the boy trying to learn a kite, past summer winds into cold winter, may their lot prevail.
Directed by Steve Martino
Voices of Noah Schnapp, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez, Alex Garfin, Mariel Sheets