Move over The Muppets Movie, here comes the original comic strip gangstas! From the world of Charles M. Schulz, all the Peanuts gang are back on the silver screen with a whole new CGI look and story, and for you Peanuts animation purists (like me), you’re in for a happy surprise… the writers didn’t screw around with the formula!
From Blue Sky Studios (all those Ice Age movies, Rio), they tweaked new CGI software to produce animation that makes this Peanuts film LOOK like the style and rendering of the old classic cell animated TV cartoon specials, but with a CGI upgrade that adds warmth, makes them appear 3D, fleshed out, and almost stop-motion. And, the story is funny, too!!
That round-headed blockhead, Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp), is totally smitten by the new kid in town, the lovely Heather, aka the ‘Little Red-Haired Girl’ (Francesca Capaldi), but he’s a loser and knows it. Everyone knows it! His kites get eaten by the kite-eating tree, he’s miserable at hockey and baseball, his schoolwork is awful, and his only friends are his dog, Snoopy (voiced by recordings of the late Bill Melendez), blanket-toting Linus (Alexander Garfin), and his psychiatrist, Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller).
Scared to death, but determined to meet her, Charlie, armed with a self-help book, tries to improve his low self-esteem and impress Heather. He tries dancing (he fails), then a magic act for the school talent show (that goes wrong), then an all-too important book report with Heather as his partner (disaster occurs). Suddenly, out of nowhere, the school announces that Charlie Brown aced the Winter academic test with a perfect 100% score! Bolstered by this new (and shocking) revelation, Charlie is thrusted into the unexpected limelight, even though he’s none too keen on the idea. His little sister Sally (Mariel Sheets), however, is having a field day with all the Charlie Brown merchandising she’s selling!
Interlaced in all this is Snoopy and his flighty little bird friend, Woodstock. As Charlie’s love problems mount, Snoopy’s imagination (and novel writing) intensify. He conjures himself up as a heroic WW2 Flying Ace battling the fierce Red Baron in France. Thrown into the mix is the beautiful and daring Fifi, a female fighter pilot dog that is captured and must be rescued at all costs.
Meanwhile, Charlie finally sees his chance to win the heart of Heather at a rally in his honor, but finds out 11th hour that his test score was a sham. Accepting his award on stage will clinch Heather’s affection for him, but it would be a lie to do so. The ending, taking a page from the Pixar book of “make ’em laugh, then make’ em cry”, really tugs at the heartstrings so you better be ready with those tissues!
Rated G (yes, a G-rated movie!!) and written by the off-spring of famed cartoonist Charles M. Schulz: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano, the story and dialogue does NOT veer off into the 21st Century like other remakes have. NO cellphones, NO computers, NO hip-talk or modern slang, and NO PG-rated fart or adult jokes. The story, told in rapid vignettes, is very fast paced and doesn’t give you time to breathe (for the short-attention span kid audience). If you’re a die-hard fan like me, you’ll recognize and enjoy much of the recycled dialogue and scenes from the past 50 years of Peanuts books and TV specials, but in a whole new light.
The voice-overs are all children, no adult actors pretending to be children. Directed by Steve Martino (Horton Hears A Who), the jokes and gags come lightning fast and furious, with a comic book feel to them. You even have “WHAM” popping up on the screen for a second to drive it home. Nice.
And at it’s heart it’s got such an old-soul and wisdom for an animated feature film, that you’d be hard pressed to find another of its kind. Linus spouting philosophy, Charlie pondering his own value and worth, Patty seeing past Pig-Pen’s filth to the cute boy beneath, and the beautiful, honest message at the end delivered so effortlessly that you just want to cheer, “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown!”. Highly recommended.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
You’ve seen all the Peanuts yearly half-hour TV specials, but what about the four feature length films made in the 70’s & 80’s? The first (and best) was this movie that captured the heart and spirit of the TV shows by utilizing the same animation production team, writer, and many of the same voice-over actors.
The plot is a tried ‘n’ true underdog story with a heartfelt twist at the end: Charlie Brown (voiced by Peter Robbins) has led his courageous baseball team to yet another season ending crushing defeat. Blanket carrying Linus (Glenn Gilger) tries to cheer his BFF up, but has a difficult time doing so, especially when he tells Charlie Brown he can be a winner and then beats him at tic-tac-toe. Depressed at his losing, he seeks solace with his “psychiatrist” Lucy (Pamela Ferdin) who tell him, jokingly, that he should join the schools spelling bee program.
Amazingly, Charlie discovers his knack for being an ace speller (although he DOES get help when Snoopy plays a Jews harp for concentration). His prowess in school leads him to the National Spelling Bee competition in NYC with Linus and Snoopy in tow for good luck. There’s a couple of side stories about Linus and his lost blanket and Snoopy going to battle against the Red Baron to pad out the 86 minute running time, but the culmination is the Spelling Bee where Charlie eventually gets all the way to the end. . . and then blows it!
The ending where he goes home and expects to be treated by his friends as a loser, but doesn’t, is the highlight of the film and serves up a valuable lesson for children (and adults) watching. With a screenplay by the one and only Charles M. Schulz himself, original TV series director Bill Melendez (who voiced Snoopy), and a soundtrack by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, you simply could not go wrong.
The cell animation was perfect, the music and songs were catchy and cute, the story wasn’t dumbed-down or pandered to kids, and the colors just popped! Yes, there were other Peanuts feature films that followed, to be sure, but this one started it off and was the best with the original cast of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and Lucy, Sally, Pig-Pen, Violet and Schroeder, Frieda (with the “naturally curly hair”) and the first Patty, before there was a Peppermint Patty.