PeanutsMoviecoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2015, 88 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated G
Aspect ratio:1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Steve Martino is a brave man. Sure, he directed the Dr, Seuss classic Horton Hears a Who! (2008) and Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), the fourth installment in the Fox animated prehistoric series. But Charles Schulz is in a totally different league.

One of the most famous cartoonists of all time, Schulz received the Congressional Gold Medal for his influence on America culture—an influence that famously extended into the U.S. space program, with the Apollo 10 command module named “Charlie Brown” and the lunar module named “Snoopy.” Over his career Schulz drew close to 18,000 Peanuts comic strips, published dozens of collected strips in books, and came into American homes through a series of now-iconic television specials, many of which were linked to holidays. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Upon his death, Schulz requested that his characters remain essentially unchanged, and The Peanuts Movie was to be the first time the characters were rendered in 3D CGI. In addition, the script was written by Cornelius Uliano and Schulz’s son and grandson, who also had a hand in producing the film. But hey, no pressure!

PeanutsMoviescreen1Martino presides over a production that remains faithful to the spirit of the Peanuts world, choosing to surprise viewers not with twists or deviations, but with the clever rendering of familiar elements from the Peanuts gang repertoire and recognizable visual cues from the comics themselves. Snoopy hauls out his typewriter and takes to the skies atop his doghouse to fight the Red Baron, Charlie Brown is smitten by a new red-haired girl in the neighborhood, and everyone starts to think differently about failure-magnet, disaster-prone Charlie after he scores a perfect 100 on an exam.

In the end, the perceived messages about never giving up, the thin line that often separates failure from success, and the fickleness of public opinion come across loud and clear—whether you’re an adult or a child. And universal messages like that are a big part of what has made the Peanuts adventures popular with all ages.

PeanutsMoviescreen2If The Peanuts Movie feels like a first, it’s only because it’s the first full-length animated feature to be produced for the big screen in 35 years. It’s the fifth film, really, though this one feels like a first film because it introduces all of the familiar elements for a new audience. Yet, old ones will take delight in the way that those familiar elements are treated. Lucy is her old irascible self, setting up her psychiatric advice booth on the street in the middle of winter—though she could probably stand to see a shrink herself because of her self-image and anger-management issues. Pigpen doesn’t have much to do, but his cloud of dirt appears every now and then. Schroeder is more visible with his Beethoven fetish and his toy piano, and Charlie’s sister Sally seems to lurk everywhere in the wings, like a real little sister.

Despite being set in winter, The Peanuts Movie manages to bring in all of the most famous “bits,” from Charlie Brown’s disastrous attempts at kite-flying to school talent shows, or from birdie Woodstock and Snoopy’s comic antics to and Charlie Brown’s dance lessons. The 3D CGI characters and stylized backgrounds seem perfectly melded by comic-strip wordless graphics like gigantic stars briefly flashed to signify an explosion or implosion, thought balloons, or eyes and eyebrows on a character that shift like drawings hovering over the CGI bodies. The effect is fairly mesmerizing and adds a charming uniqueness to the faithful tone and treatment of familiar material. The Peanuts Movie is one of the better 3D CGI animated adaptations in a sub-genre that sees far too many wrong turns and stinkers.