Seems like the Peanuts gang, the animated creation of Charles Shultz, remains as popular as it has ever been, retaining the rare trait of a franchise that never grows outdated with passing time. But will the latest big screen film, produced by Blue Sky Studios, keep the nostalgia train on track?
I suspect that the mention of Blue Sky ran shivers down some reader’s spines, since their catalogue of late hasn’t been, you know…. any good at all. Seems like this is all set up to be a blatant cash-grab of something that is guaranteed to get the attention of the little ‘uns. Also, I too have no damm idea why it was re-named for Europe, maybe they thought audiences would think it would otherwise be a movie about salted snacks or some idiotic thought like that. But, moving on…
So even with the good word of mouth I had heard of this, I still went into it expecting the worst, after all, the odds weren’t stacked in it;s favour. The story itself remains extremely simple, following the young Charlie Brown as he tries to succeed in life even though everything he touches seems to end up in a mess. But he is an optimistic one, and the introduction of a new kid to the town gives the movie its goal to aim for. You get the cast of familiar characters too that almost everyone will recognise – if not from the old show, then from the merchandise.
The first thing that immediately caught my attention and instantly increased my expectations, was the animation style implemented. It is very simplistic and in-keeping with the rough-but-cute style of the older material. And heaven knows how they managed to pull off that aesthetic in CG without making it look cheap, but they cracked it. It looks fantastic. Clean, but not over-stylised. Bright colour palette, without looking childish in design. And the animation flows very well without being too crisp, it is almost like seeing pages of images being flipped on the screen very fast – you get the feel of old-school design without it getting jagged. I am stunned to even be saying this, but… good on you Blu Sky, nice job.
As mentioned, the story is very easy to follow without many twists in the tale. You’ll know where it is going very quickly indeed. But the movie doesn’t really care about that much, the interest is in the characters. Everyone is very distinct in personality and just has tonnes developed for them to do. You can very quickly tell how characters will react to things, which many animated features would cut off their legs in order to achieve. And it is very nostalgic – even for someone like me who didn’t see much of Charlie Brown when I was a kid. Even if you approaching this with a blank slate, it introduces you in a very clever and simple way.
And second to the animation in terms of surprises for me, was the comedy. I’m kind of shocked at how perfectly balanced it was for both kids, and older audience members. The writing has a nice, sharp point to its pencil, executing timing to its advantage very well, without ever, EVER resorting to modern references. The most modern thing in here is a corded telephone, which was the absolute right choice to make. Some of the humour got a really good reaction from me, and although most of it is clean and simple, you can still appreciate the effort and design.
In fact, there was just one aspect that let the side down, and weirdly, it was because of Snoopy. Not his normal antics with Charlie Brown and Woodstock, that shit was great. I mean every time it cut to the lavish, vast expanse of the tale with the Red Baron. Propped against the simple and quaint design of everything else, it all just stuck out too much for my taste. Along with eating up a lot more running time than was due to it. Don’t get me wrong, it all looked fine, but as part of this movie? They needed to cut it back a lot, or blend it into the actual events like they did near the end. That was the one point where it worked.
But honestly, just one little issue in a film I would have previously cast aside as being doomed to mediocrity? That is a hell of an achievement. “The Peanuts” kind of defies the odds with being far better than the sum of the ingredients would lead you to believe. It is so charming in both the visuals and the writing, the animation quality is excellent, the voicework is bang on what it needed to be, including the hilarious adult voices, and it will please old fans along with winning over new ones too.
This was close, REALLY CLOSE, to being a great film, but missed out by just a hair’s width. But I expect that might change when I re-watch this in the future. We may have a modern animated classic on our hands here people, and when you re-read my opening paragraph, who on Earth would have predicted that kind of result?
Thanks for reading!