Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It offers us a rose-tinted memory off what was rather than a true depiction. Consequently, when we return in the present to that which we are nostalgic for, the potential for disappointment is great – we are forced to see what truly is (or is now) rather than see what our memory would have us believe existed.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out like that. Sometimes, just sometimes, the thing, whatever it is, is just as good—or better—in the present than it was in the past.
This week, “The Peanuts Movie,” based on those classic characters by Charles M. Schulz, hits theaters and it is wonderful. It hits all the right bits of nostalgia in all the right ways while being beautifully updated for today. Director Steve Martino and writers Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano have delivered a nearly perfect update for Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang. Truly, it is amazing what they have done with the characters and stories.
Wisely, rather than placing the Peanuts gang into a world of iPads, iPhones, and constant connections, having the Peanuts ruminate on the ways in which our world have changed, Martino offers us a timeless interpretation. Phones still have cords, the library is where you go to do research, and book reports are handwritten. As presented, it isn’t dated, it just is.
Told over the course of, roughly, a half-year of school, the story revolves around Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) trying to find a way to get the new girl, The Little Red-Haired Girl (voiced by Francesca Capaldi), to notice him. Yes, it is a tried and true Charlie Brown storyline, but as with everything else, the story of a crush is timeless.
Over the course of the movie we get to see Charlie Brown try any number of different things which, potentially, might get The Little Red-Haired Girl’s attention. Over and over again he tries and, because he’s Charlie Brown, he fails. That isn’t a spoiler, it’s just Charlie Brown. And, because it’s Charlie Brown, he gets back up, brushes himself off and gives it another shot.
Along the way we get glimpses into the lives of the other members of the Peanuts gang and sly nudges to earlier episodes in their lives (Linus offers up a Great Pumpkin thought). The most prominent of these secondary stories follows everyone’s favorite beagle, Snoopy. He spends a lot of the movie creating a story about the World War I flying ace in his Sopwith Camel (though they never identify the make of the plane) trying to defeat the Red Baron and impress the lovely Fifi (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth). It is a tale wrapped around whatever Snoopy is doing in the present and heavily influenced by what he sees in the present. Consequently, the movie is able to seamlessly move in and out of the Flying Ace’s tale without greatly disrupting the proceedings.
The only way in which “The Peanuts Movie” reinvents the wheel is in the CG animation. There are moments which harken back to the old style of Peanuts animation, but if you’ve seen any of the trailers (or even glanced at the picture above), you know exactly how this new Charlie Brown looks.
There are, of course, people out there who will scream and shout and shake their fists to the heavens that someone has dared—dared!—change the animation from the old TV specials. Here though, I’d say that nostalgia is coloring their opinion.
The animation is perfect. It is updated, unquestionably it is, but it maintains the sensibility of the old animation. It truly makes one believe that the producers of the movie sat down and contemplated what the updated version of those old specials would be, what they would have looked like if they were first made today, and then went out and produced that update.
“The Peanuts Movie” isn’t going to please everyone. There is always someone out there who will complain and holler and give you a “back in my day.” Ignore them, they’re wrong. “The Peanuts Movie” is incredibly great. It is exactly what it should be and done with all the love and care you’d want from such a project.
We are already trying to figure out when we can go back and see it again.
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox