© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

Snoopy Gets Out Of The Doghouse In 'The Peanuts Movie'

Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang (Franklin, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty and Sally) enjoying a snow day in <em>The Peanuts Movie</em>.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang (Franklin, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty and Sally) enjoying a snow day in <em>The Peanuts Movie</em>.

He may not seem it from his funny-looking round head, but Charlie Brown is one of the great tragic heroes of American fiction. A born failure who nevertheless continues to believe his victories lie just around the corner, Charles Schulz's enduring creation is the stand-in for our human condition: We all pine for success and recognition, and we usually get rocks instead.

But you, dear Peanuts reader, probably have had similar deep thoughts about the character over the years. The comic strip's picked-apart philosophies, its transcendent mix of anxieties and absurdism, and its seamless transition from the page to the screen in a series of TV specials and films all have ensured its pop-art immortality. For The Peanuts Movie, the gang's first feature-length outing in 35 years, the challenge is to introduce today's youth to that wondrous melancholy without succumbing to the same ugly commercialism that A Charlie Brown Christmas warned us about a half-century ago.

That's one tough kite to fly, but the Schulz descendants who oversaw this new Peanutsavoid the obvious traps to ensure a charming, harmless trip down memory lane. Schulz's son Craig produced the project, co-writing the script with his son Bryan and Cornelius Uliano, and they have taken the necessary steps to please the Great Pumpkin faithful. Director Steve Martino ( Horton Hears A Who!) and the team at Fox's Blue Sky Animation Studios lifted much of the dialogue and character poses verbatim from the strip. (The image of Charlie Brown on his pitcher's mound getting the wind knocked out of him by a fastball will always endear.) Trombone Shorty's got the wah-wah of the adults covered, and Pig-Pen still gets to glide on a cloud of dust. The peppy score from Christophe Beck tips its hat to the iconic Vince Guaraldi tunes of yesteryear. The movie even goes one step further and resurrects Bill Melendez, director and producer of pretty much every previous animated Peanutsescapade, by repurposing archival audio of his comforting Snoopy and Woodstock noises.

The biggest change to the original specials—3D computer animation—maintains the charming simplicity of Schulz's original drawings, and the characters' facial expressions look exactly as they have for decades. Remember, 3D is still not the most blasphemous thing to ever happen in a Peanuts film: 1980's Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!) had the gall to include visible, audible adults. Yes, the '80s were a crazy time for all of us.

The Schulzes aren't taking any big leaps with the story, which sees the elusive Little Red-Haired Girl moving in across the street from Charlie Brown, sending our smitten hero into a full-blown panic. "She's something, and I'm nothing," he laments, the familiar wail of anguish that defines the character. Chuck's quest to be "something" will lead him to Lucy's psychiatrist booth—still five cents, unaffected by inflation—and a quest to become a "winner," putting him in the paths of fan favorites like Sally and Peppermint Patty.

But this 2015 Charlie Brown feels safer and sappier than he's been in the past. Maybe it has to do with how often he smiles, or how his poignant philosophizing has been replaced by madcap dance sequences meant to showcase an original Meghan Trainor pop ditty. Two characters crucial to the Peanuts world, Lucy and Linus, have muted personalities, studio execs perhaps terrified of the former's caustic domineering nature and the latter's penchant for quoting Scripture. And there's definitely something off about the chipper ending, which milks a small internal victory to coddle Charlie Brown in a way that—well, that robs him of his tragic status. Is a little low self-esteem no longer appropriate for G-rated audiences?

Boundless fantasy optimism is Snoopy's domain, after all, and maybe it's no surprise that the beagle's moments in The Peanuts Movie are the most charming. It's giddy watching Snoopy conjure his Red Baron battles in widescreen, piloting his doghouse through a European countryside like something out of a Howard Hughes film, backed by an all-Woodstock pit crew, a rousing orchestral score, and those Melendez cackles. This peculiar sense of childlike (or doglike) playfulness has been slumbering for decades inside that red doghouse—and for whatever doesn't work in this new incarnation, abandoning Snoopy in the purgatory of MetLife commercials would have been a far greater crime. The Flying Ace flies on, and all's right with the world.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.