Growing up I did not have the barrage of choices of children’s programing that my kids in the video-on-demand generation have. My options were of the Saturday morning persuasion, and the after-school programs. Rare were the evening shows or movies that were catered to kids, but one of my favorites were the Peanuts films. Or as I came to call them, the “Charlie Brown” cartoons. Everyone remembers the seasonal ones, with Linus’s attempt to meet the Great Pumpkin and Charlie Brown’s search for the meaning of Christmas. But I still enjoyed the “Snoopy, Come Home”, and “Race for your Life Charlie Brown”. The Little Rascal element of the Peanuts cartoons remained throughout the years, where there were little to no adults besides the honking/squawking voice of the unseen teacher.
When I heard that they were making a CGI version of the Peanuts characters created by the late Charles Shultz, my mind immediately went to how they were going to modernize these 50 plus year-old beloved characters. Will they make Linus’s need for a blanket a strange statement about attachment? Would we here a inner monologue by Snoopy instead of narration? Would Charlie Brown be the complete opposite of what he was after all these years? And of course the burning question, how many minutes into the film will we get a fart joke?
The answer was a complete surprise.
Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) is the lovable loser who can’t fly a kite, in any weather, he can’t talk to a girl at all, and always manages to make a fool of himself. In other words he’s like everyone growing up that wasn’t Steve Jobs. When a new girl comes to town, aka: The Little Red-Haired Girl (they never say her name which is incredible), Charlie Brown takes the opportunity to re-invent himself and display a sense of confidence he only displays in his mind. In true Peanuts fashion, he fails at almost every turn. What I found so fascinating is that the filmmakers made the bold choice to change virtually nothing about any of the characters. Lucy is still loud and self-absorbed, Pig-Pen still stinks, Schroeder doesn’t speak except through his piano, and Snoopy is still facing off against the still unseen Red Baron.
I was simply astonished that the tone, style, and treatment of the story was identical to it’s 60’s and 70’s animated counterparts. That had to be a difficult decision in a climate of the bigger, louder million dollar animated epics that are made every year. I applaud director Steve Martino in staying true to the characters at just about every turn. What it also gets right is its pacing, it moves right along as it jumps back and forth between Charlie Brown’s ongoing dilemma to Snoopy’s confrontation with the Red Baron. In the later is where the 3-D animation come to life as the no pun intended dog-fight in the skies look great.
I kinda fell in love all over again with these characters, as this film was all nostalgia with a dash of modern sensibilities. The notion of showing kids that doing the right thing even if it means you will be the nice guy who finishes last is sobering and an important lesson for children to be exposed to, especially nowadays. The filmmakers took nothing away from what Charles Shultz intended for his characters, and instead we are given something special for a new generation to discover as well as a reminder of how simple and great these little kids and their dog can truly be.
–Robert L. Castillo