"The Peanuts Movie" Is A Downy Delight

65 years after its newspaper debut, Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts is still everywhere. The comic-strip-turned-pop-culture-juggernaut’s sphere of influence has extended from greeting cards to blimps at sporting events to Coldplay songs, all testaments to omnipresence (if not tastefulness). Not one, not two, but three generations have grown up with the lovable loser in the yellow zigzag shirt. Blue Sky Animation’s “The Peanuts Movie” looks to boost that number to four.

At first blush, it seems almost unimaginable that Charlie Brown and company haven’t been in movie theaters since 1980, but Schulz’s brainchild was never meant for feature films.

Yes, several of their 25-minute television specials have become holiday traditions, but who remembers the theatrical “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)?” The 76-minute picture posted a crummy $2 million at the box office.

“The Peanuts Movie” inevitably struggles with its running time, furiously padding its main “Charlie-Brown-lacks-the-confidence-to-talk-to-his-crush” storyline like an injured grade-schooler padding a cast to convince her parents to let her play in the big game. But between its affectionate animation and gentle disposition, it captures enough of the Peanuts spirit to do right by its late creator and his fans, old and young.

The screenplay (penned by Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan) sees Charlie Brown as down in the dumps as ever, alienated by his peers (Lucy, Linus, et al.) and feeling unworthy of his loved ones (sister Sally, pet Beagle Snoopy). When our luckless protagonist finds himself smitten with the new girl in town (referred to only as the little red-haired girl), he’s forced into battle against his natural state of low self-esteem and anxiety.

Charles Schulz didn’t invent the underdog story, but Charlie Brown has become shorthand for just that, making the narrative in “The Peanuts Movie” feel inherently warmed over. This is fine for younger viewers, but not as welcome for their chaperones. The extraneous Snoopy flights of fancy that pepper the film are equally unoriginal (even if the pooch is adorable as ever), leaving a sizable hole for the movie’s other elements to fill.

Luckily, the 2D-by-way-of-3D animation is gorgeous, perfectly adapting Schulz’s indefinable style to the present. This is as visually dynamic as Peanuts has ever been, matched by a capable voice cast (almost all children) and the laudable decision to keep modern pop culture references and songs to a minimum.

That “The Peanuts Movie” could have gone very wrong but doesn’t is nearly enough to crown it a success. But it’s more than that, often as warm and inviting as a baby blue blanket, handily walking a line between old and new.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: November 6, 2015
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Steve Martino
Screenwriter: Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz
Starring: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, AJ Tecce, Noah Johnston, Venus Schultheis, Alexander Garfin, Francesca Capaldi, Mar Mar, Mariel Sheets, Rebecca Bloom, William Alexander Wunsch, Anastasia Bredikhina, Madisyn Shipman
MPAA Rating: G