You know how it’s always slightly disappointing, at the end of a biopic, when they show the photo of the real person the movie is about? Never as dashing as the actors portraying them? “The Peanuts Movie” has the opposite effect.
When they show the original black-and-white Charles Shultz illustrations of the 1970s Peanuts Gang, the nostalgic rush of seeing the “real” Snoopy, Linus, Charlie Brown, and Lucy creates a curiously powerful wistfulness.
One is immediately struck by the genius of Shultz—the man could draw pen-and-ink like nobody’s business. With the pen-ultimate (no pen, er, pun intended) sparsity of lyrical line, Schultz portrayed as wide a range of human emotion as Rembrandt, imbuing these essentially stick-figures with personalities arguably more realized and powerful than any cartoon before or since.
At the height of its popularity, Peanuts had 355 million readers, in 75 countries, in 21 languages. With 17,897 strips, it’s considered possibly the longest story ever told by one person.
These scratch marks on white paper are truly old friends. For those who weren’t there during the gang’s heyday, the Peanuts characters were American cartoon-rockstars on par with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Keef Richards.
The Peanuts Movie
So how’s this little movie, you’re wanting to know? Well, you know how anything, no matter how stupid, if it gets hung on the Christmas tree when you were 7, by the time you’re 20 it’s become mythic and attained magical status?
The same goes for Peanuts. Those little sketches are sacred. They should really not be “upgraded,” digitally enhanced, CGI’d, 3D’d, and colorized! But they have been. So what’s the result? Well, I suppose … it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s … pretty good. For 5 year olds, it’s very wonderful!
It’s a cozy, wee movie, and while it may not grab the attention of you, the adult, the way it does your 5 year-old, it’s guaranteed you’ll feel a cozy nostalgia, remembering the way America used to look not that long ago in the days when neighborhoods, like Dr. Seuss’s Who-ville, had twinkly lights and smoking chimneys, Big Wheels, Schwinn banana bikes, and pogo-sticks parked in driveways, ice-skating on the pond, paper routes, yellow school buses—and parental voices sounding like muted trombones.
What kind of a plot are we talkin’ here? Well, that little red-haired girl, she moves across the street from Charlie Brown. So it’s a romance! Charlie Brown is legendarily twitterpated about the little red-haired girl. He must know her. He shows us the tongue-tiedness that must be overcome to meet the woman of your dreams.
To borrow a line from the movie “The Tao of Steve,” Charlie Brown must win her approval by “Doing a great thing in her presence.” He learns to dance! Yay! But slips on a puddle of spilled punch at the dance! Booo!
He gets a perfect score on a test! Yay! She loves that. But, uh-oh—it’s Peppermint Patty’s test, by mistake attributed to Charlie Brown! Booo!
But does Chuck lie about it? He does not. Charlie Brown is a good man. He tells the truth, he suffers the terrible, unholy child-shaming that no one else but a bunch of fellow neighborhood classmates, ganging up on a bad day, can administer more thoroughly. This courage does not go unnoticed.
Baron von Richthofen
Meanwhile, that incorrigible, creative, thoroughly self-involved dog of his is riding around the sky in his Sopwith Camel-which-looks-a-lot-like-a-doghouse (a Sopwith camel is a WWI fighter plane).
Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s pet beagle, is the Walter Mitty of small canines, and he chases that Nazi, the notorious Red Baron, as in the days of yore, when the comic strip was de rigueur schoolbus-reading for middle-schoolers.
Snoopy does rather too much of this. I would like to have seen more of Snoopy’s philosophical musings while lying atop the doghouse—such as the realization that when woken from sleep to a re-filled dog-food bowl, he finds that his head is awake but his stomach is asleep. Whereas later, in the middle of the night with an empty bowl, he finds his head is asleep but his stomach is awake. This is profound stuff, man—kids need to know this stuff.
Getting the Girl
We get to see that Charlie Brown is like all of us: a little bit genius when he really applies himself (he reads “Leo Toy-store’s” entire book, “War and Peace” in one day).
In the end, even though his lack of self-confidence succeeds so often in making him the goat instead of the hero, the little red-haired girl explains something to one and all: she has recognized that Charlie Brown, in the trying, did kind, compassionate, wise, truthful, and tolerant things. This is pure gold for children.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Don’t just take ’em to the movie—buy them the complete works of Charles S. Shultz for Christmas: children must be initiated into the world and stories of the Great Pumpkin, kite-eating trees, 5¢ psychiatry, the saga of Linus’s blanket, the incredible angst of having to learn biblical passages by heart for the Christmas pageant, the secret of the dust-magnet that is Pig-pen, what “Ha-Ha Herman” was, what was up with Frieda’s flaccid cat, how Violet and Patty were the original mean girls, and much, much more. Charlie Brown books should come right after Grimm’s fairy tales.
Just like Richard Dreyfus’s character says at the end of “Stand By Me”: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” I never really had side-splitting, stomach-aching, teary-eyed, runny-nosed, roaring-with-laughter laugh sessions, like the ones I had in 6th grade, recounting and re-enacting the adventures of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang with classmates during recess.
“The Peanuts Movie”
Director: Steve Martino
Cast: Trombone Shorty, Rebecca Bloom, Anastasia Bredikhina, Francesca Capaldi, Kristin Chenoweth, Alexander Garfin, Noah Johnston, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Noah Schnapp, Venus Schultheis, Mariel Sheet, Madisyn Shipman, A.J. Tecce
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Date: Nov. 6
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5