The Peanuts Movie comes billed as being “From the imagination of Charles Schulz,” and, almost astonishingly, it pretty much is. You want a reboot like this to be like The Muppets, the sweetly sincere 2011 movie with Jason Segel; you fear that it will be like The Muppets, the 2015 mockumentary-style ABC series, which many fans find overly jaded and cynical.
It seems nearly impossible, in fact, that the sketchy soul of Schulz’s work, which somehow managed the jump to low-budget hand-drawn cel animation, could survive the transition to high-tech 3D computer animation. Surely the result must be something in the vicinity of The Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks.
But no. Against all odds, The Peanuts Movie persuasively returns us to the old neighborhood of A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
The old place looks different, yet the same; it’s 3D with a 2D aesthetic, and even occasional, welcome incursions of hand-drawn 2D-style animation. The surfaces, textures and lighting border on photorealism, yet the simple shapes, movements and layouts are all vintage Peanuts. It’s a bit jarring, not necessarily in a bad way, to see the fleecy lining of Charlie Brown’s cap or individual strands of Frieda’s mass of naturally curly hair behaving like simple line drawings, but it credibly honors the naive quality of the earliest Peanuts animations.
No effort has been made to update this world or make it more modern or relevant. The phones have coiled cords; Charlie Brown struggles with a leaky fountain pen; and Snoopy bangs away unapologetically on his mechanical typewriter. Young viewers are expected to roll with the notion that there was a time long ago when children did not carry iPhones and played outdoors with kites instead of indoors with PlayStations.
Crucially, it sounds pretty much the same. As always, the Peanuts gang are voiced by kid actors, and they all sound persuasively like themselves. Peter Robbins, who voiced Charlie Brown in the 1960s beginning with A Charlie Brown Christmas, will always be the definitive Charlie Brown to me, but I have no trouble accepting Chad Webber in the role in Snoopy Come Home, and I have no trouble with Noah Schnapp here.
Snoopy and Woodstock sound exactly the same, because their vocalizations are all borrowed from old recordings of veteran Peanuts director and producer Bill Melendez, who always voiced these characters. The grownups sound the same — that is, they sound like a muted trombone going wah-wah, which is what they are (New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty does the honors). Vince Guaraldi’s beloved jazz compositions are in evidence, most notably the classic “Linus and Lucy,” though the score is bigger and more orchestral than vintage Peanuts, and pop numbers by Meghan Trainor and Flo Rida make fairly unobtrusive appearances.
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