Starring: Voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez
Directed by: Steve Martino (“Horton Hears a Who”)
Written by: Brian Schulz (debut), Craig Schulz (debut), Cornelius Uliano (debut)
Good grief, they got it right.
A little personal history: with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang being such an integral part my childhood – from comic strip anthologies to the indispensable holiday season animated specials – a sense of dread permeated my soul when a 3D computer-animated feature from the studio behind “Ice Age” was announced. How many pop songs and dog farts would we be forced to endure? Would the sweet stillness of something as seminal as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” be thrown out the window in favor of a voice-modulated Justin Bieber cast as Charlie Brown opposite a Snoopy whose internal monologues were voiced by Ed Helms with the personality of “The Simpsons’” Poochie? Would I finally turn into one of those people who laments some media from my childhood – all of which still exists, mind you – being repackaged into something atrocious and devoid of what made is special in the first place? Refreshingly, the answers to those question are a couple, none, no, no, and not yet. Somehow, in an era when even Transformers have testicles, “The Peanuts Movie” manages to feel cut from the same creative cloth as the source material while still being given a modern facelift to make sure kids don’t fall asleep, Peppermint Patty-style, in their theater seats.
Wisely opening on a frozen pond to evoke the spirit of the classic holiday special, the movie introduces us to Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp…an actual child!) trying to win one of his eternal battles: flying a kite. When it all goes wrong, as it often does in Charlie Brown’s world, he draws the loud mouthed ire of Lucy (voice Hadley Belle Miller, yes, a child!) and the gentle sympathy of her brother Linus (voice of Alexander Garfin, yep, a child actor). Everyone’s favorite blockhead receives a glimmer of hope, however, when The Little Red-Haired Girl moves in across the street, and Charlie Brown is instantly smitten. The eternally self-doubting Charlie Brown will need all the courage he can muster to talk to her, so he enlists the help of his trusty beagle Snoopy (voiced, as he should forever be, by the archival squawks of the late Bill Melendez), who also lives out a fantasy life as a World War I flying ace eternally clashing with the infamous Red Baron.
A 3D kids’ movie arriving in 2015 with Charles Schulz’s vision intact is a minor miracle, a debt no doubt owed to the ubiquity of Peanuts merchandising and the widespread popular love of the still highly-watched holiday specials – Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – that have become staples for generations of families. Sure, not a lot happens in the movie and at times it can feel like the script is ticking off greatest hits – the Great Pumpkin, Joe Cool, and “no dogs allowed!” all pop up in the first half hour – but the sweetness of the screenplay and the hopelessness conveyed in the Schulz-ian squiggles of Charlie Brown’s facial expressions evoke everything that has made Peanuts a cultural touchstone for 65 years.