Title: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie
Director: Steve Martino
Major Players: Voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Kristen Chenoweth
Out Of Five: 3
Forgive me for getting nostalgic again. A few weeks ago I got all misty-eyed over Doctor Zhivago, the first grown-up film I saw at the cinema. Now I’m back to my student days, when I was a huge fan of Peanuts. I had more copies of the paperback versions of the cartoon strip than I had text books – which accounts for a lot. And my hero was most definitely Snoopy.
Fast forward to this year and here I am, sat in a cinema watching the first big screen outing for Charles M Schultz’s creation. Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is a film that’s all too aware of its heritage. It’s been made with contributions from several generations of the Schultz family and director Steve Martino says he worked on the movie in the very same office where Schultz senior worked for 50 years on one of the most popular cartoon strips ever. We even get a look at the original black and white cartoons at the start and end of the film.
And I found myself missing them. Because, for all its nods to Peanuts history, that heritage is hardly visible on the big screen. The film is made by the people behind Ice Age and that means digital animation, with an exceptionally clean, nay sterile, look and none of the hand drawn cartoons that I remembered. If, however, you’re like me and familiar with Peanuts’ many plotlines and running gags, you won’t be disappointed, because they’re all here. Without fail. Charlie Brown failing to fly a kite. Charlie Brown falling for Lucy’s “kick the ball” trap. Snoopy chasing the Red Baron, with his kennel as his plane. Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder and his piano: right at the start, there’s even the neat trick of him playing the Fox theme music on screen, at the foot of the logo.
The story, such as it is, is all about Charlie Brown’s longing for the little red haired girl who joins his class at school and trying to pluck up courage to speak to her. At the same time, it’s also about his faithful dog, Snoopy, fighting the Red Baron and rescuing the love of his life, Fifi. In other words, it’s all about overcoming your enemies, external or internal – not dissimilar from last month’s The Good Dinosaur in that respect.
And it’s pitched at much the same, young audience. It’s even been dumbed down to appeal to them, with Schultz’s characteristic satirical digs and philosophical and literary jokes – the reason why Snoopy and co were so beloved by students – surgically removed. But it also pre-supposes that children will be familiar with Peanuts to start with, which is a large, and flawed, assumption. True, the film has done good business in the States, but it’s an American institution, so it’s no great surprise. For most British children, the film will be the first time they’ve seen the characters, so they’ve no memories to draw on and are unlikely to get all those familiar gags. They’ve been brought up on all-action superheroes and might find the low-key adventures of a kindly but shy boy and his dog just a wee bit too wordy. Their parents, however, will see it from another perspective, as they will remember the original and the TV specials, so it’ll be them dragging their children along to see it and not the other way round.
As for this adult, it wasn’t the Peanuts I remembered or loved. Despite the gang all having the same characteristics as before – and Snoopy being a total scene stealer, with the most wonderful fantasy life – it had lost its edge. I laughed occasionally and smiled a lot, but that was out of recognition and familiarity, not genuine humour. And I felt more than a twinge of disappointment. My attachment to the original, however, remains intact. And to Snoopy, of course!
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is released in cinemas on Monday, 21 December and is reviewed on the latest edition of Talking Pictures.