The first screen adaptation of Peanuts was A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). It was commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company, and assembled on a minimal budget in just a few months. Despite being (essentially) a tossed-off cash grab, it nailed the melancholy tone of the strip.
There are three Schultz names in the credits for The Peanuts Movie: Jean, Bryan and Craig (Charles M. Schultz’s widow, their son, and a grandson), and the budget was huge (almost 100 million). Unfortunately, it’s a redundant, pointless cash grab made by people who are tone deaf. The creative team seems to have used Hallmark cards as their touchstone. The movie’s better dialogue is lifted from old TV specials, while the new material is just bizarre and off-key. Bottom line: it desecrates the memory of our greatest comic strip.
The trailer’s primary image was a blissful Charlie Brown and Snoopy hugging each another. That’s wrong in so many ways – Charlie Brown’s rare smiles must be understood as hopeful, not reactions to good fortune already achieved. The world ALWAYS takes his smile away. (One of the strip’s longest-running gags is that Snoopy can’t even remember his owner’s name – their best-friendship was strictly one-way.) When the movie didn’t feature the scene from the trailer, I started to think the enterprise might not be QUITE as bad as I’d feared. Unfortunately, the feel-good conclusion wiped out any minor goodwill that had accumulated.
I didn’t hate the computer animation as much as I thought I would, although it’s an odd amalgam for sure, retaining the flatness of the old drawings with just a touch of depth. (Charlie Brown and Linus’ hair don’t translate especially well – the solution the animators came up with is probably the best that can be hoped for.) I’m up in the air about whether we need to see Snoopy’s three-dimensional doghouse flying under bridges and over the countryside – I almost think Schultz would have liked those parts. The voices are remarkably similar to the old TV specials (which is a comfort), and Trombone Shorty delightfully recreates the adult voices we know so well.
So the failure of the movie isn’t technical – it’s spiritual. Charlie Brown’s fundamental sadness was never a problem for those who loved the strip, including children. We didn’t need him to strike out the hitter, win the little red-haired girl, or even be acknowledged as a kind and decent person. The triumph of Charlie Brown would have somehow diminished our satisfaction. The movie’s writers (including two Schultz’s) don’t have faith in their material or the audience. They also forgot that Schultz always hated the name Peanuts, which had been forced on him by the syndicate. Skip this one and download the original special.