A few random thoughts on The Peanuts Movie
It is quite visually inventive, but quietly. When Snoopy flies his doghouse amongst the Fokkers and Sopwiths, it remains a doghouse. Thus at one point he simply turns around to face the other way, and flies off in the opposite direction — on a doghouse viewed in profile, the front and back look the same. This was indicative of a strength of the film. In adapting something as cartoony as Peanuts, it was able to discreetly admit it was a cartoon, and therefore play visual games that for a Pixar-type movie might come too close to breaking the fourth wall. Sometimes Charlie Brown’s thoughts come to life in a bubble, and they are in flat black and white that is taken directly from the strips.
The flying scenes actually worked very well. I watched the film with one under ten who had read some Peanuts and one who had not, and the one who had not liked the flying scenes the best — I think some kids might have got impatient if the story was solely centred on Charlie Brown and the ‘real’ world, seeing as those scenes tended to be more contemplative and quieter.
As an adult who has been reading Peanuts off and on since I was under ten, I enjoyed watching it all come to life — it was not a disappointment, as could so easily have been the case. Many scenes contain a moment, a frame which, if frozen, would be a direct lift from the comic strips. Similarly there are episodes, dialogue and set pieces taken from the books. At one point Charlie Brown even has a sack on his head. How much would I have enjoyed it had I not already been a great admirer of Schulz’s work? Less, definitely. Much of the enjoyment was in seeing the iconic images come to life, and in a way which did not clash with my inner vision of the works. This also gave me the hint to stay through the credits — I had not seen Lucy pull the football away before Charlie Brown kicked it during the body of the film, so I knew it had to be buried in the credits — and it was.
There are a few minor fiddles — Peppermint Patty and Marcie are at the same school as Charlie Brown. All the kids are in the same class. Snoopy gets a love interest (Fifi, I think it was), although it helps drive the Red Baron scenes and functions perfectly well within the story.
So it is a close adaptation, very much in the spirit of Schulz’s work, though perhaps less melancholy.
This brings me to the most contentious point. We see the little red haired girl. She speaks. She is in the movie. In fifty years Schulz never showed us her face. I don’t even know if the back of her head was in frame.
Some have complained, some don’t care. I think it’s OK. I found the red haired girl plot a bit schmaltzy and forced, but it sort of makes sense if the movie is considered as a capstone to Peanuts (though a sequel is always possible, I suppose…), as though Charlie Brown’s reward finally comes, and when it does, having watched him wrestle the kite-eating tree and fail to pitch any strikes and worry over nothing and make a fool of himself repeatedly and so on, it feels fair enough.
Just as long as he never gets to kick that football.