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Charlie Brown and the gang are back in a new stylized computer animated adventure that’s a modern day throwback to classic Peanuts strips and television specials.

 

Charlie Brown, the average kid, and his friends are partially into the school year, enjoying winter and all it has to offer. A new kid moves to the neighborhood and it is a little red-haired girl, who Charlie Brown instantly develops a crush on. Charlie Brown continually makes mistakes and flubs up the simplest of tasks, including even talking to the new girl. In the meantime, Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog, has found a typewriter and decides to write a love story about the World War I Flying Ace. Eventually Charlie Brown is paired with the little red-haired girl to do a book report, but she is away for the project, so he takes it upon himself to do the entire thing for the both of them as a kind gesture. He eventually messes that up too, but while down on his luck, he teaches a younger kid how to fly a kite. Upon realizing he successfully taught this kid and through other good deeds and acts of humility, Charlie Brown realizes that he is a truly good person and that he should not worry about being anyone other than himself; everyone, including the little red-haired girl, will appreciate him for who he is as a person.

The folks over at Blue Sky Studios knew that making a computer animated Peanuts film would be a monumental task and would need to stand out from other computer animated films, so they set out to do just that. Assembling a team of creative folks that were already Peanuts fans, or at least had an appreciation of the comic, was the first step in the process. After that, a field trip to Santa Rosa, California was in order to visit where Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz would work his magic and breathe life into his drawings. While there, the team learned the process that Schulz and his team would go through making the strip as well as all the television specials from over the past 50 years. The main goal of this entire endeavor was to get everyone on the same page so they could figure out how to make a computer animated Peanuts film still have that classic aesthetic that Schulz and team gave it. The trick was always finding the line and making sure most everything was asymmetrical in nature. Truth be told, Blue Sky nailed it with the look of the film. The designs of the characters, environments, and so forth really felt as though it belonged in the Peanuts universe. Kudos to them for the great work put into the animation of this film. During production, the animators put together character rigging groups for each character and tested movements and expressions to make sure everything was tweaked to meet Peanuts perfection.

In the first five minutes of the film, viewers are hit with a slew of nods back to past Peanuts strips and specials that all fans can easily recognize and enjoy. This Easter egg motif continues throughout the entirety of the film’s duration and does tend to be a bit much. While the characters completely embody the ones we all know and love, the film was a lacking in that it was too Peanuts for its own good. Imagine looking forward to getting something, finally receiving it, and finding out that it was exactly what was expected, but something still felt a little off about it. That is how this Peanuts film felt. While Sparky’s son, Craig, and grandson, Bryan, penned this story, it felt all too familiar from the strips and specials. The wholesomeness and goodness of anything in this film felt reminiscent of television and film, straight out of the era of conformity. Each gag, each lesson, each mini-adventure within the overarching storyline was purely expected. There were no risks or new stories or adventures for these characters, and that made it a bit unimpressive. The only side story that had a semi-new feel to it was the story Snoopy wrote for the Flying Ace and Red Baron because, when it is played out on screen, it takes the viewer to a new dimension of Snoopy’s imagination and breathes new life into his adventures. In the strips, it is just Snoopy’s doghouse and not much background. But in the film, there was added depth to the Flying Ace’s skyward story with other planes, mountainous landscapes, and even plane hangars and zeppelins or blimps. An entire film or short about Snoopy’s other personas may have ended up a better picture in the long run. It is not that the story of this film was boring, far from it in fact, but it was literally a bunch of strips of the comic stretched and sewn together to make one story big enough for a film. No risks, not really anything new, and all classic stories make for a bit of a redundant film that will just fade away into the mix with the others from the past.

The Peanuts Movie did, however, have some other incredible bonuses that kept it feeling truly Peanuts  Lee Mendelson, longtime producer of Peanuts cartoons, gave the go ahead to Blue Sky for a couple of things. One was they could use some of the original music from the specials, including some Vince Guaraldi tunes that are ingrained in our brains and hearts, such as Linus and Lucy, the Christmas one that always gets this reviewer in the holiday spirit. Another was they were able to get archived audio clips of Bill Melendez, who voiced Snoopy and Woodstock, and were able to clean them up and use them, giving this film an added breadth of authenticity, since as Bill passed away almost ten years ago. The main cast of the Peanuts gang was actually voiced by children, much like all the old television specials were, to give it a better childlike feeling. As an avid Peanuts fan and admiring Charles Schulz, there were things that seemed to be missing from the film that other fans may have noticed as well. The next-door neighbor’s cat would have been fun to see along with Charlie Brown and Linus sledding in cardboard boxes. These truly were minor things and Blue Sky did make up for that by having some small 2D animated sequences embedded in the film, helping the continuity flow between 2D and the new computer animated look and feel. There were elements of the animation that did seem a little choppy, but to the untrained eye, they will go unnoticed. Overall, this film is not a must see. Instead, it feels more like an eventual casual watch down the line and may be better enjoyed on a home screen rather than a big silver one.

 

Directed By: Steve Martino

Produced By:  Paul Feig, Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, Michael J. Travers

Written By: Craig Schulz, Charles M. Schulz (comic strip), Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano

Starring: Bill Melendez, Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Alexander  Garfin

Distributed By: Blue Sky and Peanuts Worldwide

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Run Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: G

 

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