More than a decade since the last daily comic strip was published, Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts continues to grow in popularity as each year passes. So popular is the comic, that when a brand new feature film was released by Blue Sky Studios… nobody seemed to care. Good grief.
As with the original comics, the movie largely focuses on two characters: Charlie Brown, the optimist with a never-ending run of bad luck, and his pet dog Snoopy, a larger-than-life beagle with dreams and aspirations of his own. Though the latter is cheeky at times, he remains loyal to his owner and is always there to pick up the pieces when Charlie Brown is down on his luck.
In this adventure, a new kid is moving into Charlie Brown’s neighbourhood. All too aware of his reputation of as an eternal victim of misfortune, Charlie Brown sees the new kid’s arrival as an opportunity for a fresh start, to be somebody great. His determination to do so is buoyed by the fact that his new neighbour is a girl with red hair – a girl who he develops a massive crush on.
Meanwhile Snoopy, inspired by the events occurring in Charlie Brown’s life, is writing a manuscript on his brand new typewriter. With the help of his friend Woodstock the bird, Snoopy dreams up the tale of the Flying Ace, a World War I fighter pilot trying to win the affections of Fifi the poodle. While doing so, the Flying Ace must do battle with his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron!
While the two plots seem contradictory, they actually support each other quite well. The more mellow and calm tones of Charlie Brown’s story are offset by the thrills of the Flying Ace’s adventure. Likewise when the flying animations of Snoopy’s imagination become too much, the film is brought back to Earth by Charlie Brown’s more simple tale.
In fact, Snoopy & Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie (to give its Australian title) is all about simplicity. Despite being in 3D, the animation style is reminiscent of the old Peanuts comics; Charlie Brown’s black-and-white dream sequences are even in Schulz’s signature hand-drawn style. Additionally, the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock come from archival recordings of the late animator Bill Melendez.
This nostalgia may be due to the involvement of Schulz’s family, in particular his son Craig and grandson Brian, both of whom act as producers. The two expressed a desire to retain the timelessness of the comics – which has certainly been achieved – but they’ve also managed to capture the charm and spirit of Peanuts, right down to the voices of our favourite characters.
So… why wasn’t The Peanuts Movie a huge success? It was promoted non-stop, had a clever marketing campaign (which included the Birdman homage you can see above) and a recognisable franchise on its side. My guess is that the film was a victim of bad timing. In North America it opened against Spectre – a fact which was mocked by TV’s Sterling Archer – while here in Australia it had to contend with The Force Awakens.
Despite lacking any complexity or originality, The Peanuts Movie captivates with the charm it shares with the comics on which it’s based. Here’s hoping that it finds the audience it deserves in the years to come.