director Steve Martino
viewed: 11/07/2015 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA
Were it any other pop cultural property being re-booted in 3-D digital animation, I’d quite easily let it slide right on through the cinemas and out of consciousness. But it’s Peanuts and I’ve got a softer spot for Peanuts than most anything.
The design of the characters is a little odd, making the resolutely 2-D figures have the depth that modern computer animation can render. But it kind of worked for me, maybe because I had an old View-Master set of Peanuts that were 3-D figures re-telling some of the comics, and even though that was a little weird, it was kind of cool. So, I will give credit to the producers for wrangling that weirdness successfully.
Interestingly, they really try to adhere to the strengths of the original animated specials and films made by Bill Meléndez and Lee Mendelson that managed to give voice and life to Charles Schulz’s creations. Throw in those Vince Guaralid riffs, even some specific flashes of dancing, caroling and having the whole Peanuts gang all voiced by children who sound like the original children who voiced them, there is a real adherence to the successful elements that aren’t just lip service but a truly committed design, aesthetic, and core identity.
That said, the film does one key and deeply altering thing. Charlie Brown comes out on top. The Red-Haired Girl recognizes him and chooses to be his pen pal. And Snoopy is nice to him, comes in and helps him.
This kinder, gentler Peanuts is essentially in total opposition to one of Peanuts’ most defining elements. Charlie Brown is always a loser. You love him but no one is nice to him. Snoopy is a narcissist, mostly utterly indifferent to Charlie Brown. The whole thing, all 50 years of it, was about unrequited love, eternal disappointment, really a long-term total downer. It’s frustrating, to see your hero always be the goat, but ultimately that is part of Schulz’s integrity and the ultimate message of the melancholy world view that the strip ultimately portrayed.
In this way, the film feels disingenuous. And though it’s enjoyable (the kids and I enjoyed it for the most part), the more I consider it, the more wrong this issue strikes me. So much of the tone is captured, but then the soul is lost.
Is this the worst thing that can happen to a favorite historical cultural property? Hardly. Who knows what the future will hold for the Peanuts gang. Likely, they will be successful enough to roll into further productions, the marketing and potential of Peanuts is massive globally, so as anything owned by a corporation, if there is a way, there is a will,…the will to cash in.
Charles Schulz in life held very tightly to his creation. He made sure that no one would draw the strip after his death as is so common in classic comic strips. The films and specials that he made with Meléndez and Mendelson were that unique successful interpretation, and as much as the credit goes to the producer and director team, it’s also to Schulz’s credit that in his lifetime he limited what he would put his name on creatively (even if marketing-wise he was happy to have Snoopy on just about anything).
What would Schulz have thought of this The Peanuts Movie? Impossible to know. Though relevant to ask.