Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie
By Ben Gruchow
November 10, 2015
This is it, as far as story; The Peanuts Movie is, like Shaun the Sheep from August, exceedingly low-stakes, and its skirmishes and scenarios are ultimately in service of a simple, positive message. This contributes to a relaxed pace and a warm, guileless tone that is by any measure far superior to a hyper-caffeinated pop culture-consuming monstrosity like…well, like Blue Sky’s stablemate Ice Age and Rio franchises.
While we’re in the habit of discussing things The Peanuts Movie does well enough to earn it a pass straightaway: the movie is, as mentioned, absolutely gorgeous. What director Steve Martino and art director Nash Dunnigan (of both those aforementioned franchises, by the way) have done is craft fully-realized CG environments in 3D, and populated those environments with characters that somehow come off as both three-dimensional and two-dimensional.
Shading and lighting is up to par with modern CG films, and the characters are clearly created on a computer, but their motion is more akin to the staccato rhythm of stop-motion animation, and they move and pose and talk in ways that never betray the two-dimensional visual on the page. It’s warm, familiar, and comfortable; we accept this as Peanuts without hesitation. Yet it is clearly a film that required much effort and much careful digital calibration. It’s thrilling to watch.
The downside to all of this conviction and faithfulness is that the movie would be borderline-incomprehensible to someone who is unfamiliar with the Peanuts comic strip or TV series, and it would be insufferable to the non-Peanuts fan who wanders into the movie hoping to be converted. I exempt from this very little children, who are likely to be entertained by the visuals on display and the overall gentle nature of the production. It would be possible for a newcomer to follow the general incident as each one unfolds, but the tone would be totally alien. The movie is also, for all of its congeniality, not very intelligent—or at least, not willing or able to build on the character tics and traits of the strip and TV episodes to amount to something more. It exists comfortably within its plane of existence, but never comes close to transcending or challenging it.
This is the context that The Peanuts Movie shares with the other 2015 animated films that dealt in the same directness and clarity of vision: Shaun the Sheep and Inside Out. Both of those were smarter and funnier films, and - in different ways - equally as beautiful to look at. To keep the spirit and tone of Schulz’s creation is indeed very important, but that does not mean that a version of The Peanuts Movie with greater depth and invention and surprise could not have been made. What we have here is worthy, and appropriate; you will not dislike yourself for watching it as an adult any more than you would as a child. The bar for exceptional was set unusually high this year.