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You did it, Charlie Brown!
Going where many before him have stumbled and fallen, Charles M. Schulz’s iconic, follicly-challenged underdog has made a notably smooth transition to computer-animated 3D with The Peanuts Movie, a delightful romp that captures the spirit of the adored 65-year-old comic strip.
It’s evident from the very start—with Schroeder accompanying the Fox fanfare on his baby, baby grand—that those who may have initially cried “Good grief!” when the studio announced the upgrade three years ago could just sit back and relax.
Well aware that they were dealing with precious cargo, director Steve Martino, previously credited with preserving the distinctly Seussian qualities of his 2008 adaptation of Horton Hears A Who!, and screenwriters Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano, have similarly brought the Peanuts gang into the 21st century without betraying that crucial, fondly nostalgic element.
The thoroughly engaging result, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, should deservedly carry its good cheer well into the holiday season.
Technically the fifth feature-length Peanuts outing (the first was 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown), the film doesn’t venture too far from home despite that larger canvas, once again confining the action to the immediate neighborhood, save for Snoopy’s fantasy air battles with arch-nemesis the Red Baron.
Driving this particular collection of character vignettes is the arrival of the Little Red-Haired Girl with whom Charlie Brown (pitch-perfectly voiced by 10-year-old Noah Schnapp) is instantly and hopelessly smitten.
All the touchstones are in play, including CB’s kite-flying challenges and Lucy’s counseling sessions (still 5 cents), as are all the main characters, voiced, for the most part, by actual kids.
The only bit of stunt-casting comes from the presence of Kristin Chenoweth as Snoopy’s love interest, a femme-fatale flyer named Fifi; while the electronically modulated voice recordings of the late Bill Melendez have been incorporated for those Snoopy/Woodstock “line readings.”
Similar care has been notably taken with those 3D character renderings which manage to bring warmth into an often soul-less technology by retaining Schulz’s deceptively simple, remarkably expressive squiggles depicting eyebrows and smiles rather than attempting to go for deeper visual dimension.
That same respect for the past can be found in the script, credited to Schulz’ son, Craig, and grandson, Bryan, along with the younger Schulz’s writing partner Cornelius Uliano, which still favors rotary telephones and manual typewriters, although introducing blue recycling boxes into the mix.
Also wisely retained are Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy themes, performed here by David Benoit, which mesh nicely with Christophe Beck’s original score.
Only Meghan Trainor’s bouncy dance-pop contribution “Better When I’m Dancin’” feels a bit out of place in an otherwise caringly organic, affectionately composed love letter to Charles Schulz.
Production companies: 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Bill Melendez, Kristin Chenoweth
Director: Steve Martino
Screenwriters: Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano
Producers: Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Cornelius Uliano, Paul Feig, Michael J. Travers
Editor: Randy Trager
Composer: Christophe Beck
Casting director: Christian Kaplan
Rated G, 92 minutes
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