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REVIEW: THE PEANUTS MOVIE Will Make Cartoon Hearts Appear

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip in the Sunday funnies defined our childhood. Marked by unflinching honesty and acerbic wit, it blazed a trail, allowing us to experience the growing pains of a boy named Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy. Beloved television specials like IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN CHARLIE BROWN, A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING and A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS became tradition, if not canon, in many households. I defy you to go an entire holiday season without hearing Vince Guaraldi’s iconic score from the latter special. Director Steve Martino’s THE PEANUTS MOVIE breathes new life into Schulz’s characters, giving them modern resonance whilst staying true to their legacy.

Charlie Brown is determined to show the new kid across the street that he’s not the blockhead his schoolmates – including Lucy, Schroeder, Marcie, Peppermint Patty, and his little sister Sally – believe he is. However, his plans are thwarted as that new kid is the little red-haired girl. He crushes hard on her – so much so, it impedes his ability to function normally, let alone be suave. As Charlie figures out a way to somehow bumble his way into her heart, his best friend Snoopy embarks on a fantasy mission to fight his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.

Martino, with help from Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz and Cornelius Uliano’s script, peppers in the references with reverence; listening to the “wah wah wah wah” of the adults instantly transported me back to my childhood. Hearing Sally holler, “My sweet baboo,” at Lucy’s brother/ Charlie’s human bestie Linus made my heart flutter. When Guaraldi’s Peanuts theme played, goose bumps appeared. Seeing Snoopy in his Joe Cool getup made me giggle. They also integrate nods to the pencil drawn strips in a clever way, showing Charlie’s black and white memories of foibles past in a cartoon bubble. There’s also a really funny gag with Pig Pen that I’m surprised no one thought of before.

Lucy’s constant threats of violence (her “five good reasons”) are eschewed for a softer – albeit still prickly – nature. The filmmakers are right to do that as, these days, kids bullying other kids is neither funny nor aspirational behavior. Plus, the film’s heartfelt, sweet sentiment and message about compassion, bravery and honesty is something for everyone.

That’s not to say this is a perfect film. Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasies don’t land well – perhaps mainly for the adults in the audience. They actually reminded me that I didn’t totally love them as a kid either. Here, they serve as a way to interject unnecessary action sequences to cheaply grab kids’ attention. The bright side is that while those segments don’t have any narrative impact, at least the animation looks pretty. Kids treating Charlie better after learning he got a perfect score on an aptitude test, while accurate to real world kid behavior, doesn’t feel like the right message to send today’s kids. They should be accepting of him regardless.

With an insanely positive vibe, THE PEANUTS MOVIE will make you feel like a kid again, and is destined to make cartoon hearts shoot out of your head.

4 out 5

THE PEANUTS MOVIE opens on November 6.

 

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