The BBFC website describes The Peanuts Movie as "an animated adventure about a hapless boy's attempts to get a girl to notice him, while his loveable dog sets out to rescue the love of his life". Which, although simplistic, does nicely outline the plot in a nutshell. But anyone who, like me, grew up with a love of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang knows that there is a lot more to these characters than that.
As a kid, I loved Peanuts. I read the comic strips every day in the newspaper (remember them?). I nagged my parents to buy the paperback books, and when old enough, I bought them myself. And I always watched the animated specials when they were on TV. Peanuts spoke to me, and I totally related to Charlie Brown. I was not bald, or round-headed, but I too was bad at sports, bullied by the other kids, and constantly a loser. A cartoon that has stayed with me all my life is Charlie Brown sitting alone on the kerb, in a downpour, saying: "It always rains on the unloved." Any time I am out in the rain, that line comes to mind. I am still unloved; I am Charlie Brown.
And so to this new film about the Peanuts gang – to give it its full UK title, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie. The question has to be asked – just who is the audience for this film; who exactly is it aimed at? It's a kid's film, to be sure, but do the kids of today even know who Charlie Brown and his friends are? Unlike my generation, they have not grown up surrounded by Peanuts in newspapers, books and on TV, so their parents dragging them along to this lovely new film is probably their first exposure to Snoopy and pals. Still, it's a pretty good place to start.
On the plus side, the writers – Bryan and Craig Schulz, who are the son and grandson of creator Charles M Schulz, along with director Martino – take an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to this first theatrical Peanuts movie in 35 years. It's the first Peanuts film to be made in CGI (and in 3D, at that), but its makers were careful to emulate as much as possible the look and feel of the old TV specials and the comic strip itself. Plus, the setting and tone of the film are still firmly ensconsed in the timelessness of the original strips. Lucy is still charging a mere 5c for her psychiatric services – if the film was set today, she would probably cost $300 an hour. The Peanuts Movie has a couple of onging plotlines running through it: Charlie Brown's desire to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl, who has just moved in to the neighbourhood; and WWI flying ace Snoopy's attempts to rescue his girlfriend Fifi and defeat that evil Red Baron. All this is interspersed with a series of sketches, most of them based on the classic comic strips. And all the familiar tropes are in place Schroeder still plays Beethoven on his toy piano, Snoopy is still best pals with Woodstock and wants to steal Linus's security blanket, Peppermint Patty still calls Charlie "Chuck" and Lucy "Lucille", and Marcie still refers to Patty as "Sir". And Charlie Brown is still a failure at everything he tries - he still can't get a kite to fly, or win at baseball, or kick that football before Lucy pulls it away. And so, of course, his attempts to impress his dream girl also end in failure. Or do they?
And so to a few quibbles, because this film does break a few of the long-held rules of the Peanuts universe. For a start, we actually see the Little Red-Haired Girl, and even hear her speak. And Peppermint Patty acknowledges that Snoopy is a dog, instead of referring to him as "the funny looking kid with the big nose". But the main rule-break occurs when things actually, for once, go in Charlie Brown's favour. What? How? Ah, you'll have to see this very sweet, funny and lovingly nostalgic film to find out. But after being a loser for 60-odd years, isn't it about time that Charlie Brown caught a break?