It has been a small Herculean labor to bring Charles Schultz’s beloved comic strip to the big screen in such faithful manner where they were able to maintain everything that made Peanuts so endearing as a comic strip in the first place. I cannot emphasize enough what a great job they’ve done with the visuals and feel to the comic. The CGI renditions of all the classic characters look stunning. They’ve managed to really outdo themselves in staying true to Schultz’s vision in just about every aspect, everything from Charlie Brown to Snoopy feels like they were directly ripped from Schultz’s colored weekend strips. It’s quite an achievement. The whole movie just looks so beautiful and that is no small praise coming from someone who more often than not cannot stand modern CGI cartoon movies. They’ve put some serious time and effort into making this and it has paid off, tenfold.
When I first learned about the movie, I was a bit concerned. It was a bit like with the live action version of Paddington the Bear, there was that little nagging voice at the back of my head that feared this might, as they say, “rape my childhood” by trying to modernize the Peanuts, and the trailers with their music choices like the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” being used seemed to certain extent confirm my worst fears. Fortunately that isn’t really the case here. The movie has that same ageless feeling to it that the comic still contains to this day and the humor and all the classic running gag still work with the same efficiency as they did when they were first done all those decades ago. But it’s not a perfect movie.
The one area where the movie stumbles a bit is the writing. I am by no means a Peanuts purist, so I didn’t really mind that they took they some rather “bold” liberties with the franchise, like prominently using the fabled Little Red-Haired Girl, whom Charlie Brown is infatuated with in the comics, by actually showing her on screen. To me that was not sacrilege and certainly within the movie and the story they are telling, using her in the way they do, it works fine enough. And it’s not like they solely focus on her in the movie, the usage of the Little Red-Haired Girl is still very much that of a plot device so Charlie Brown can do stuff and then feel miserable and anxious when he his attempts to impress her fail. The real problem lies in the very splintered ad hoc structure of the story and the ways the movie chooses to progress the very flimsy ongoing plot forward. The movie has this annoying habit of jumping forward in time and trying to distract you by filling the gaps with short gags, rather than building a cohesive story around which the jokes could organically seep through. It’s frustrating because there are long portions of the story that work great and seamlessly insert classic Peanuts gags to the scenes, only for the plot suddenly deciding to do a weird transition, usually either a Snoopy vs. the Red Baron segment or an odd time skip that happens at the snap of a finger, and usually it is so jarring (at least to me, your mileage may vary) that it just takes you out of the whole movie for a bit.
Snoopy as the Red Baron scenes are especially infuriating, because as paradoxical it sounds, I both enjoyed them immensely and at the same time kinda hated them and wanted them to go away. As isolated segments they were for the most part exceptionally well done and cute and I adored them. My problem with the Red Baron bits is that they don’t really work at all as this giant, secondary narrative inside the movie, around which a great deal of emphasis is put on. It outstayed it’s welcome by a mile by the end, and it is a shame because if they had just done the aerial fights once or twice, with slightly shorter running time, it would have far been more enjoyable. Now it just wears you down and stops being fun after awhile.
But aside from these few minor gripes of mine, I fully enjoyed the movie. When Charlie Brown sets out to read War and Peace as his choice for the book report assignment when trying to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, only at the last minute having it be destroyed, it’s pure classic Peanuts. Same with Charlie Brown trying to play sports or fly a kite, he’s doomed for failure and it’s so damn adorable yet sad and funny at the same time. And isn’t that what you want from Peanuts? Good ol’ Charlie Brown facing failure but being funny about it?