Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie
By Ben Gruchow
November 10, 2015
In broad strokes, there are three different reactions one can have to The Peanuts Movie, based on one’s exposure to the source material. For the person who is familiar with and loves the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz, this film will be a delight. It faithfully replicates many of the character tics and dialogue that’s a big part of why the comic strip and its characters have found an audience over the years, and it does so in a way that’s generally honorable. The look of the film is fantastic; more on that in a moment. It’s to be expected from this faithfulness that, for the person who is familiar with and dislikes the Peanuts comic strip, this film will be torture. More on that in a moment, too.
Then there is the person who is somewhat familiar with the Peanuts comic strip and TV shows, who perhaps saw them as children and liked them, but didn’t grow up with the characters or develop much of a lasting affection for them. I fall into this camp, and I found The Peanuts Movie an odd experience; I was drawn in at the start, and there were moments and incidents that tugged at some obscure memory that made me aware I was seeing a callback to something from the franchise’s past. In this way, the movie kept me on board - up to a point. If there was ever an argument that needed to be made about how Peanuts is best suited story-wise to 25-minute TV specials instead of 90-minute features, this is it.
How do we approach said story? The Peanuts Movie doesn’t really have one. Instead, we have a series of vignettes that roughly correspond to signature moments and expressions in the series’ history: The Little Red-Haired Girl, nameless and mostly faceless, moves in across the street from Charlie Brown, and he’s instantly smitten. There is a school talent show, a school dance, a book report, many conflicts and resolutions in the classroom. There is a rhythm to this, and we can sense a general shape to the larger storyline well in advance of each beat, but there really is the sense by the end that this could go on forever, and the potential/inevitable Peanuts Movie sequel could more or less pick up right where this one left off.
This is, of course, accurate to the temperament of the comic strip, where a new story was generated every day or every week. And so the film establishes a fairly consistent routine: Charlie Brown encounters an opportunity to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, does much work and preparation to excel at the opportunity, and then…well, I’ll leave you to discover the resolutions for yourself. Suffice to say that if there was a pattern of success, he would impress the Little Red-Haired Girl right away, and the credits would roll at about the half-hour mark.
The other branch of the story involves Charlie’s beagle Snoopy, and his continuing efforts to essentially outdo himself in how outlandish of a story he can visualize. This establishes a tendency of both Snoopy and Charlie Brown to imagine elaborate and fanciful outcomes for story developments; in the best of these, Snoopy embarks on an imaginative sequence that recalls spy capers, and each predicament he gets into reveals a progressively weirder and funnier real-world counterpart. Until it begins to occupy an ill-fitting percentage of the movie’s runtime, it functions as effective cutaway.