Perhaps best known for Scrat, that poor little bastard of a squirrel who pops up in the Ice Age franchise and in several shorts before their other movies, Blue Sky Studios have now commandeered Snoopy and the hopelessly unlucky Charlie Brown for a Peanuts reboot. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Blue Sky bunch are absolute sadists, obsessed with watching Scrat squirm through terrible ordeals and now keen to watch poor old Charlie Brown completely fail at life's everyday obstacles.
Based on Charles M. Schulz's much beloved scribbled cartoon strips, Blue Sky have updated the animation, giving Charlie and pals a shiny 3D digital makeover, but little else has changed. Not messing too much with the formula or characters that made Peanuts famous, Blue Sky have played it very safe and pretty damn smart keeping most of the charm of Schulz's original work.
Charlie is surrounded by old familiar friends; benevolent Linus with his trusty blanket, Beethoven-idolising pianist Schroeder, sporty ginger Peppermint Patty, and dust-cloud covered Pigpen. When a new little red haired girl moves to the neighbourhood, Charlie's attempts to impress her go predictably pear-shaped or seemingly unnoticed. While he musters up the courage to actually talk to the object of his affections, his trusty canine pal Snoopy goes in search of adventures in his own imagination, hunting down a poodle named Fifi who is being menaced by Snoopy's nemesis The Red Baron.
It's an incredibly slight story with absolutely nothing of any consequence at stake. That might make it admirably true to the comics, but it also leaves the movie feeling incredibly episodic, disjointed even, as it lurches from one sequence to another. The story bumbles along like Charlie Brown, but with none of the character's determination. He might want to talk to this new girl in town, but it's not a goal that all viewers will be able to get behind, particularly the younger ones in the audience who probably just want to see more of Snoopy flying his kennel into barmy battles with The Red Baron.
Peanuts ends up feeling like two separate films, one in Snoopy’s mind and one in Charlie’s real world, neither of which gel particularly well with the other. Both are full of imaginative visual gags and plenty of slapstick to make kids giggle, but overall the first half of the film drags with little sense of purpose or direction. It eventually feels as though it’s getting somewhere, but it’s impossible to shake the idea that Blue Sky should have brought Charlie, Snoopy and the always entertaining scene-stealer Woodstock back for television. As a series of episodes, Blue Sky have done a fantastic job at keeping the spirit of Schulz alive, but it fails to work nearly as well at feature length.
Everything about the Peanuts movie feels reverential and traditional; from the boy meets girl story, to the one token black kid character, to Charlie's bossy stereotype friend/bully Lucy. Even the 3D digital animation doesn't diverge from Schulz's original drawings much. It's clearly a labour of love, but in stretching Charlie and Snoopy's story to nearly 90 minutes, Peanuts becomes laboured itself. By all means let Blue Sky keep making Peanuts adventures, but put them on TV where they'll find a snugger fit in future. Like with the mini-adventures of Scrat, a little Snoopy goes a long way.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: STEVE MARTINO / SCREENPLAY: BRYAN SCHULZ, CRAIG SCHULZ, CORNELIUS ULIANO / STARRING: NOAH SCHNAPP, BILL MELENDEZ, ALEX GARFIN, ANASTASIA BREDIKHINA, KRISTIN CHENOWETH / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 21ST
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10