Reinventing a beloved icon for a new generation may delight a younger audience, but it can be a traumatic event for the elders who see their childhood memories modernised and streamlined and, frankly, eviscerated by a marketing machine whose concern is creating a cookie-cutter product which they can sell to a mass audience with little regard for the integrity of the original.
Thus it is immediately reassuring that before The Peanuts Movie has even begun, as the logo for distributor 20th Century Fox rotates on screen accompanied by its traditional Alfred Newman fanfare, sat on the plinth is Schroeder playing over the orchestra on his toy piano.
It was in October 1950 that Charlie Brown first appeared in the comic strips of Charles M Schulz and it has been fifteen years since his creator died and the strip ended, but this feature film inspired by his work has been written and produced by his son Craig and grandson Bryan alongside Cornelius Uliano, ensuring the legacy is respected, preserved and cherished.
Thus it is with relief that it can be reported that the appearance of the characters, their personalities, their voices – yes, even Miss Othmar when she calls to let Charlie Brown know that she has called a snow day and school is cancelled – have been preserved, even down to the archive recordings of Bill Melendez, producer and director of many of the animated Peanuts specials for over forty years from 1965, still speaking for Snoopy and Woodstock.
Directed by Steve Martino and produced by Blue Sky Studios, behind the Ice Age and Rio films, unlike the single extended storyline of those features much of The Peanuts Movie is drawn directly from the scenarios and dialogue of Schulz’s original Sunday colour strips, the brief pieces strung together to form a loose narrative chronicling a year in the life of Charlie Brown from the day a new family moves in across the street, their daughter joining his class at school, a Little Red-Haired Girl who will change his life.
“Don’t you ever know when to give up?” Lucy shouts at Charlie Brown, trying to fly his kite once again, but that is why Peanuts remains so beloved and relevant sixty five years on, for the only occasion he will ever sacrifice his dreams is when another is in greater need than he, his younger sister Sally running into trouble in the school talent show, a girl whose name he doesn’t even know needing help with a book report.
Around him are all the familiar faces of the last six decades, Linus, Peppermint Patty and Marcie, Franklin, Violet, Pig-Pen and of course his perpetually distracted beagle who defies both reality and – even when not indulging in one of his many fantasy interludes – the laws of physics.
While the promotion of the film and the established reputation of Blue Sky would suggest that it is a family film suitable for all, that assumption should be balanced with the awareness that the very young may struggle to follow the dialogue and the philosophy of the wise-beyond-their-years but endlessly naïve children on the screen.
Neither have the situations been updated, still living in the more innocent decades in which they were first conceived, and as a result the few modernities on the soundtrack are glaringly out of place among the playful simplicity of Vince Guaraldi’s timeless jazz pieces rerecorded here by Christophe Beck, the inserted pop tunes underwritten, autotuned, overproduced and intruding upon the mood established elsewhere in the film.
Despite being filmed as a computer generated 3D animation the majority of the film consciously underplays the possibilities of that medium, for the most part mimicking the traditional style of the cel animation other than a few shots which are more complex, only utilising the full depth and scope of the medium when the action switches to Snoopy and his progressively more elaborate adventures involving Fifi, captured by and now held captive behind enemy lines by the Red Baron, yet in Charlie Brown’s own daydreams it is the original black and white newspaper strips which are referenced.
Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is now on general release and also screening in 3D