Director: Steve Martino
Cast: Noah Schnapp and Bill Melendez
Running Time: 93 minutes
Release Date: December 21st
If a person reflects upon youth by using the words “carefree” or “innocent” then they ought to be approached with the utmost caution. Either they arrived on this planet aged forty, admire Ronald Reagan or are Ronald Reagan. Naivety on that level is unhealthy, and totally suspect.
Jeffrey Eugenides captured it perfectly, albeit in a particularly grim fashion with The Virgin Suicides, when the youngest of the Lisbon family’s daughters Cecilia is hospitalised upon attempting to end her life. Questioned by a doctor, with more qualifications than memories, he asks,
“What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”
And, in a stroke of terse brilliance, she replies,
“Obviously doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”
Eugenides struck a perfect chord. However, he was only playing an instrument, and that instrument was crafted by Charles M. Schultz back in 1950.
The brains behind Peanuts, a daily comic strip, which followed a gang of philosophical, snarky, sarcastic, anxious and frustrated kids, Schultz gave the world Charlie Brown, a blockhead on paper, and a hero in the minds of the reader. Relatable to anybody who has ever questioned their place in the world, he was portrayed in stark contrast to how adults perceived children. Instead of dwelling on carefree topics, he wandered about, telling anybody who cared to listen, that life was a struggle, and it probably was not going to get any easier.
Though tame by comparison to the shows and strips that followed in its footsteps, i.e. South Park, Family Guy, The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, still, Peanuts remains the brazenly frank pioneer, and such elements are a vital part of its charm. Perhaps this is why one could be forgiven for treating the CGI The Peanuts Movie with caution. The scratchy aesthetic of the comic strip and its television specials was an integral part of the series as it existed during Schultz’s life-time and to alter such a detail could be read as the first in a line of compromises.
Thankfully, this is not the case. If life continues to get tougher, at least Peanuts is still as addled by the world as it ever was.
Owing perhaps to the fact that the film was produced by members of the Schultz family, the overall presentation is updated, but true to its source material on all fronts. From the narrative’s adherence to the original comic strip structure, to the use of Vince Guaraldi’s iconic compositions, which are a joy to hear in a theatre, there is no reason to panic, because it is clear that director Steve Martino knows exactly what made Peanuts beloved in the first place.
Constructed from classic vignettes and tropes, the story is written partially as a feature-length Greatest Hits, which should appease old fans, while giving newer one’s a proper introduction. The decision to forgo dragging in new characters, or ideas might seem conservative initially, but really, this is where the meaty goodness comes into play. The Peanuts Movie is about the legacy left by Charles M. Schultz, poking fun at its own brand, and questioning its cultural impact in 2015.
Charlie Brown is still the terminally nervous, and hapless kid when stood next to his friends; Linus the Philospoher, Lucy the Psychiatrist, Schroeder the Musical Prodigy, Franklin the Charismatic, and Peppermint Patty the Accidental Genius. Even Snoopy, his loyal beagle has more confidence and brains than his owner. Good Old Charlie Brown cannot even beat a snowman at a game of baseball, so why on earth would anybody classify him as a hero?
What ensues is a modest, but imaginative journey of self-discovery, which never strays from the small town that Charlie calls home, and confirms that, while Peanuts is now an industry, creatively it has not surrendered anything. The lucre vanquished none of the neurosis. If anything, it has heightened the paranoia tenfold, and hence, the only means of confronting this self-doubt properly was to face the fear on the largest platform possible.