On a winter's day blanket-snuggling Linus (voiced by Alexander Garfin), would-be girlfriend Sally (Mariel Sheets), know-it-all Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller), piano prodigy Schroeder (Noah Johnston), feisty Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis), bespectacled Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) and the rest of the Peanuts gang play games in the snow. Meanwhile poor, luckless Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) tries to fly his kite and as always winds up flat on his face to the amusement of all. When a new family moves next door Charlie Brown is smitten with the lovely Little Red Haired Girl (Anastasia Bredikhina). Driven to impress her, Charlie Brown sets out to win a talent contest among several misadventures to convince people along with himself, he is not a hopeless loser. Naturally what follows is calamity and mayhem. Nonetheless Charlie Brown's preternaturally clever dog-of-many-talents Snoopy and his little yellow bird sidekick Woodstock are there to lend a hand, between penning a thrilling novel about his exploits as a World War I flying ace dueling with the Red Baron.
As happened with 2015's other great nostalgia trip Star Wars: The Force Awakens the creative team behind The Peanuts Movie faced a near-impossible task nudging a timeless, iconic pop culture staple into the twenty-first century without sacrificing any of its delicate, original handmade charm. Happily in both cases the filmmakers succeeded and then some. Right from the pre-credits gag with Schroeder's piano rendition of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, Peanuts fans will know their beloved characters are in safe hands. After the Vince Guaraldi Jazz Trio kick in with that delightfully distinctive 'Linus and Lucy' theme tune the action on-screen proves more than its equal at inducing heartwarming nostalgia. Produced under the careful supervision of Peanuts creator and artist Charles M. Schulz's family (his sons Bryan and Craig Schulz are among the screenwriters), the film is computer animated in 3D by Blue Sky, the team behind the Ice Age franchise who proved they could adapt a distinctive two-dimensional children's classic for the screen with their excellent take on Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who (2008). As Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Peppermint Patty spring to vivid three-dimensional life throughout a string of eye-popping animated set-pieces, the team take full advantage of the new medium but preserve the hand-drawn charm of the original cartoons.
The film is laden with in-joke allusions to the entire history of Peanuts in film and television. To keep pace with today's young viewers it moves fast and is full of incident without compromising the character-driven spirit of Charles Schulz's original comic strip. As an extra nostalgic treat the filmmakers digitally resurrect Bill Melendez, the animator behind the original Charlie Brown and Snoopy feature films and TV specials, to reprise the voice of Snoopy. The scene-stealing beagle and his avian sidekick emerge their usual adorable selves as they snag little personal gems of silent comedy, including a few dazzling face-offs with the Red Baron, amidst the main thrust of the narrative. Interestingly the plot deepens the bond between Snoopy and Charlie Brown. As the dog acts more like a cool older brother trying to nudge his master towards romance the results yield pleasingly sweet and tender moments to counterbalance Schulz's familiar melancholy.
Charles Schulz's original comic strip was celebrated for its gentle humanity and wry philosophical wit. Poor, luckless Charlie Brown remains one of pop culture's most lovable losers. Here he suffers nothing less than an existential crisis or as he puts it: "a serious case of inadequacy." In detailing Charlie Brown's hapless efforts to impress not only his beloved Little Red Haired Girl but also convince his peers as well as himself he is more than simply a walking disaster magnet, the film quite movingly captures the universal fears and anxieties shared by awkward kids the world over. Yet the plot moves beyond Schulz's fatalism to pinpoint those moments of kindness, self-sacrifice, bravery, honest and dauntlessness in the face of seemingly endless adversity that remove the 'life's loser' facade to unmask Charlie Brown as one of pop culture's great triers. No matter how often life knocks him down, in his own quiet, neurotic little way, Charlie Brown never gives up. In doing so the film caps the Peanuts story with the big cathartic moment Schulz himself regretted he was unable to include in his final strip. Which leaves this the best Peanuts animated feature since Snoopy Come Home (1972).