Everyone’s favourite blockhead is back, just in time for Christmas! But enough about Chris Evans’ new memoir – here’s The Peanuts Movie.
Here in the UK, it’s called Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie, presumably because we might not know what Peanuts is (though the posters’ images of Snoopy and Charlie Brown offer something in the way of a visual clue). This big-screen outing sees Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) fall in love, gain popularity and write a book report on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – although he thinks it’s Leo’s Toy Store by Warren Peace.
That’s one of the strongest jokes in the film; a movie spoilt by glossy, 3D animation, which sucks out all of Charles M. Schulz’s hand-drawn charm. As the Peanuts gang would say: “I can’t stand it!” Other than that, the film by Schulz’s son and grandson generally treats the source material with respect (Snoopy’s typewriter hasn’t been replaced by an iPad, for instance). And it’s great to see all our favourite characters on the big screen, from perpetually bossy Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) to permanently filthy Pig-Pen (AJ Teece).
But why would Lucy and her younger brother Linus (Alex Garfin) be in the same class at school? And must Snoopy (voiced by archival recordings of the late Bill Melendez) fall in love with a pink lady beagle? And does it need to span such a long timeframe? The great Peanuts TV specials tended to be seasonally focused, thoughtful and charming. This movie treats the audience with far less intelligence, often descending into dull action and missing opportunities for jokes and insight.
Of course, good old Charlie Brown has finally earned a victory or two. But watching him learn about himself isn’t nearly as interesting as his learning about the world. Those TV specials are truly special. And this is fine. But where’s the existentialism? The poignancy? The beauty? With its digital sheen, the movie never really looks like Peanuts; the definitive comic strip, without which there’s no South Park or Calvin & Hobbes.
Like Charlie Brown himself, The Peanuts Movie is likeable but mediocre. It’s always a joy to hear that jazzy soundtrack and those trombone-voiced adults (and it’s infinitely better than the Garfield movies. But so are a lot of serious injuries). Ultimately though, the film seems too nostalgic for kids and too compromised for fans. And as for the poppy music… good grief.