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Worth A Look81.82%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 9.09%
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1 review, 5 user ratings

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Peanuts Movie, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Good grief- this actually turned out pretty good!"
4 stars

The first edition of the "Peanuts" comic strip appeared in late 1950, the last in early 2000, with creator Charles M. Schulz passing away at around the same time. While classic strips have continued to run in newspapers ever since, what's a newspaper to a kid born ... Wait a minute, I just remembered that "The Peanuts Movie" actually has a "who reads newspapers?" joke. It's just done smoothly enough that, like the rest of the movie, it manages to come across as clever comedy for both kids and adults.

For those who don't know - I'm never certain how popular these characters are outside the United States and Canada - Peanuts is a comic strip following a group of kids in small-town America, with Charlie Brown, full of good intentions and sometimes well-earned self-doubt, at the center. His best friend Linus Van Pelt carries a security blanket around, and Linus's older sister Lucy is a loud-mouthed fussbudget seemingly intent on crushing Charlie Brown's self-esteem. He's got a younger sister himself, Sally, and a beagle, Snoopy, whose inner life is rich and full of fantasy. And now, a Little Red-Haired Girl has just moved in across the street, and Charlie Brown is smitten - but why would she even look at such a screw-up?

Meanwhile, in addition to helping his guy out, Snoopy and his little yellow bird friend Woodstock fantasize about being a World War I Flying Ace battling the Red Baron, and the filmmakers do something kind of neat with that: Though a staple of the strips practically from the time Schulz started portraying Snoopy as no ordinary dog, it's never had a proper origin, and while one isn't actually necessary, it's kind of a random thing for kids who don't know the characters. So the screenwriters (Schulz scions Bryan & Craig and Bryan's writing partner Cornelius Uliano) and director (Blue Sky Studio veteran Steve Martino) tie it into Charlie Brown's half of the story while also picking up on how Schulz created Snoopy's fantasy life as a way to show how dogs get by when their masters go off to school or work and leave them alone all day. There is a hint of loneliness and worry to it, just not an overwhelming one.

Those Snoopy vs the Red Baron sequences give the filmmakers a place to do the sort of big, adventurous sequences that look great on the big screen and in 3D (although those not wanting to pay premium ticket prices for an entire family will likely get a perfectly satisfactory experience), something which may seem anathema to Schulz's deceptively simple art style, but which turns out to work just fine. As big as these scenes are, they're never so big as to overshadow the kids' more grounded activities, and the Snoopy sections are moments of almost pure visual whimsy that make a nice balance for the talky bits with the kids.

Not that the rest of the movie is entirely talking heads on undersized bodies; the filmmakers use what is likely a much more generous budget than the television specials had to engage in a lot of gentle physical comedy, mostly doing a good job of translating what works three panels at a time in a comic strip to full motion. The character designs are impressive translations - rendering things and characters built for two dimensions in three can be tricky - and the intentional stutter that was noticeable in the previews from not using in-between frames that wouldn't have been seen in the strip becomes far less noticeable as the film goes on. The only place where it really becomes an issue is with Snoopy's eyes - the moments when they actually become more eye-like than the black spots usually used look off, like flat drawings of eyes taped onto a solid model.

Mostly, though, the film works by not straying far from tradition at all. The characters act much as they always have, right down to occasionally spouting lines that speak more to adult concerns, even as they're voiced by actual kids rather than older voice actors (carrying on a fifty-year-old tradition with the property). There are some slight updates for today's world, as kids dread standardized tests as much as book reports, and pokes at how the characters became a merchandising powerhouse are winning rather than sharp. The filmmakers generally keep things clear enough for the younger people in the audience to understand, although longtime fans will smile at things like Mendelsohn & Melendez Movers, 7's full name being listed on the class roll, and characters from the early years of the strip like Shermy and the original Patty having speaking roles.

As one of those longtime fans, I had a big grin on my face from the first bit of Vince Guaraldi to appear on the soundtrack to how the filmmakers managed to fit "Curse you, Red Baron!" in without having Snoopy speak. I had severe doubts about a digitally-rendered, three-dimensional "Peanuts" movie from when I first heard about it, and while the end result is a bit sunnier than Schulz's work - but then, the beloved specials and other tie-ins always were - it's still very much in line with what made the strip great, and should win fans old and new.

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originally posted: 11/09/15 11:30:26
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell sweet & respectful Peanuts fans should like it 4 stars
5/20/16 Jason Good viewing 4 stars
12/06/15 Charles Tatum Erratic but fun 4 stars
11/12/15 Bob Dog A too respectful line by line retread in places. 3D characters not as good as 2D classic. 2 stars
11/10/15 paul carter loved it. 3 stars
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  06-Nov-2015 (G)
  DVD: 08-Mar-2016


  DVD: 08-Mar-2016

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