Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

***1/2

Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
"If you're a fan of the strips, there's nothing much new here, but that's part of the charm - seeing favourite sequences come to 'life'."

That blockhead Charlie Brown makes his first big screen appearance in years but he's looking a little different. Forget the flat primary colours of the original cartoons, TV specials and earlier films, this is Peanuts for the Pixar generation: computer generated, shadow modelling - the works. And while I'm a purist/old fart I have to admit that Uncanny Valley hair apart, it works. Some of the early scenes have Charles M Schulz's kids, whom I'm used to seeing in midshot, right in your face - probably literally, as this has a 3D version - but either I quickly got used to it, or things settled down. In any event, I soon relaxed into the story.

Or rather, stories, as there are two threads here: Charlie Brown swooning over new neighbour The Little Red-Headed Girl, and Snoopy the World War One Flying Ace imagining a battle over France with the Red Baron. If you're a fan of the strips, there's nothing much new here, but that's part of the charm - seeing favourite sequences come to 'life'. With Schulz's son Craig and grandson Bryan part of the writing team, it's not surprising this is such a love letter to the cartoon. We even get one or two of the original hand-drawn strips cleverly inserted into the screen story, and they're like old friends come home for Christmas.

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I've never been a fan of Snoopy's fantasies, which tended to dominate the strip after the Seventies, but the Great War bits, with the beagle falling for female pilot Fifi, fill the big screen rather well. And weirdly, given my hatred for wee yellow bird Woodstock, I grinned broadly every time his battalion of pals appeared to do a bit of engineering.

Charlie Brown and friends dealing with everyday joys and frustrations, philosophising as they go, is where Peanuts excels, and the filmmakers do this aspect of Peanuts justice. Our hero's battles with the Kite-Eating Tree, crabby Lucy's psychiatric booth, Linus's belief in the Great Pumpkin, Sally's hatred of school... it's all here, and nicely done.

Two big things the film has going for it are the voice casting and the music. Casting director Christian Kaplan has done a brilliant job of getting kids who sound like the characters as voiced from A Charlie Brown Christmas - the first TV special, back in 1965 - on. Noah Schnapp is note perfect as Charlie Brown, Hadley Belle Miller a suitably crabby Lucy - heck, all the kids do a great job. For Snoopy and Woodstock, mind, he goes back to the well, reusing classic recordings from Bill Melendez, who produced the TV shows. And it works marvellously, dog and bird sound totally themselves. The only 'name' in the whole production is musicals star Kristin Chenoweth making the noises for Fifi - it seems a bit of a waste of a star, but perhaps she's a fan.

Christophe Beck's score is big and sweeping, but doesn't overwhelm the story. He gets out the big guns, appropriately enough, for Snoopy's fantasy - he's writing a novel atop his doghouse - with the likes of the lovely Fifi's Theme recalling the Golden Age of Hollywood. As a bonus, we also get nicely rearranged versions of the three best-loved themes of Peanuts Past - Vince Guaraldi classic jazz compositions, Linus & Lucy, Christmas Time is Here and Skating - popping up in rearrangements.

The Great War sequences are also when director Steve Martino's movie is at its biggest, with the camera flying through the air with the greatest of ease - Snoopy's dogfight over Paris really is something to behold.

I enjoyed The Peanuts Movie loads, with just one caveat - the ending is a bit too upbeat, too saccharine. Yes, Charlie Brown can have little triumphs, but they should be quickly followed by him being brought down to Earth. Hero, then goat - not because that's what he deserves, but because that's who he is. That's his world.

Still, it sent the kids at the screening out with a smile on their faces... they'd have had even more fun had they stayed through the credits, mind.

With a sharp narrative, fun characters, classic gags and high production values, the Peanuts Movie deserves to make Charlie Brown and co some new fans. And if it doesn't, well, good grief.

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2015
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The firm friends embark on a dual adventure.
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