By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
What do you do when you’re behind schedule and don’t have time for anything too ambitious? A retro review! And for the record, it was between this and “Captain Underpants.” Anyway…
When breaking the ice with someone, and the topic of films comes up, there are a handful of films I always reference. “The Lego Movie,” “Gone Girl,” “The Social Network” and the one that always draws eyebrows: “The Peanuts Movie.” Peanuts is one of those properties I hold on a special pedestal alongside “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Winnie the Pooh,” childhood properties of such quality and love that anyone attempting to add to the series canon has the weight of the world of their shoulders. Subsequent additions can not just be good, but need to be classic. And after wringing my hands for literal years about the prospect of a CGI Peanuts film by the creators of “Rio”, not only did they not blow it, but made one of the most genuine and earnest films, and truest comic adaptations, I have ever seen.
The style ends up being the most pleasant surprise. The film was computer generated and the artists went above and beyond to give the entire production a ‘2D’ feel. The jittery way characters move, the pencil outlines and scribbles, and the tear-inducing framing device that I won’t spoil here, remind us of not only the animated classics we grew up with, but the endlessly creative mind of Charles Schulz. It is one of the most beautiful animated films I have ever watched. Additionally, the choice of having actual children voice the characters was genius. It is the kind of thing you wouldn’t think is vital, but once you hear it, you become infuriated with every other film that has adults voicing children. The Peanuts as a property only works because it feels like a genuine, real vision of childhood, and you can’t make that believable when you have Katy Perry or George Lopez voice 10 year olds.
Peanuts also avoids the pitfalls of ‘modernization’ and ‘nostalgia.’ Much like “The Lego Movie,” the film knows how to laugh with its source material as opposed to at it, making jokes for long time fans without becoming jaded or cynical. References are kept subtle and non-intrusive, fun gags are had at the expense of things like Charlie Brown’s unchanging wardrobe or the constant jabbering of adults. There is a gag involving Pig Pen that never fails to crack me up.
But most importantly, the essence of Peanuts is captured in the film. Much like “Calvin and Hobbes,” the life blood of the franchise is capturing childhood, warts and all with every fanciful digression in between. The main plot—centered around Charlie Brown winning the attention of the Little Red Haired Girl—is charming and heartfelt, giving Charlie a long overdue victory, but the heart of the film is the little moments of childhood. Snow days, dances, the anxiety of social interactions and essays, the way memories blur together to just the highlights. Much like “Calvin Hobbes” and “Winnie the Pooh”, Charlie Brown captures nostalgia and it’s purest, truest and most honest form.
I could talk about this film for years, and I do intend to. In a world drowning in bitterness, cynicism and doom, it genuinely makes me emotional that a creative team gave cared so much, gave a damn, and committed themselves to making something genuine, real, heartfelt, and beautiful. And I hope, wherever Charles Shultz is right now, he can see how hard people are working to honor his creation.