Charlie Brown is back on the big screen
For months now, we’ve suffered almost a Charlie Brown level of angst over how “The Peanuts Movie” would be handled. Ideally, the makers of the 3-D animated update would deliver something like Jason Segel did with “The Muppets,” where passion and reverence for Jim Henson’s creations emphatically trumped all the corporate leveraging at work. It felt reassuring to know that Charles M. Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan were both involved with the script. But then we’d catch, say, that trailer set to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” “Teenage wasteland”? Aaugh!
As it happens, music also furnishes an immediate clue that, fear not, director Steve Martino and the crew at “Ice Age” outfit Blue Sky are bona fide devotees. Presenting the iconic fanfare of Peanuts’ latest rights-holder, Fox — as interpreted by Schroeder! The film isn’t quite this inventive throughout, focused as it is on re-creating classic bits and sticking to a gently familiar episodic story line rather than something more fully, ambitiously developed. (There are even a few flashes of 2-D black-and-white to keep the print strip’s spirit alive.) But this is certainly a very pleasing reminder of why we love the Peanuts gang, whether we’ve been tuning into their holiday specials for just a couple of years or too many to count.
The story’s main threads involve Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) dealing with his crush on a new neighbor — a little red-haired girl, of course — as well as the unfamiliar attention he gets for surprisingly acing a standardized test. Meanwhile, Snoopy’s WWI flying ace also gets a lot of screen time, as the movie gets wrapped up in dazzling aerial visuals, and willfully ignores our tendency to dismiss the Red Baron stuff as tedious “Great Pumpkin” filler. (Archival recordings of late, signature Peanuts animator Bill Melendez are used for Snoopy’s voice.)
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is how perfectly it overlays the blueprint for a Contemporary Animated Hit, even with Snoopy still pounding away on a manual typewriter and Lucy still charging just a nickel for psychiatric advice. What animation writer doesn’t aspire to the Peanuts’ flair for mouths-of-babes dialogue? And what feature ’toon isn’t striving to manufacture the emotional sincerity that comes so naturally here? Even with his glossy new look, Charlie Brown remains the Charlie Browniest.
★ ★ ★
THE PEANUTS MOVIE
Directed by Steve Martino. Written by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Starring Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 93 minutes. G.