The Peanuts Movie Dishonors Charles Schulz’s Legacy

Courtesy:  Blue Sky Studios

Courtesy: Blue Sky Studios

Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are among the most iconic and beloved figures in American pop culture history.  More than sixty-five years ago Charlie Brown and company were first introduced to America.  Since that time generations of audiences have been introduced to the Peanuts gang both in print and on screen.  Being that the Peanuts franchise has proven to be since its inception one can’t help but wonder why in 2011 the new feature Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown was released.  That new take on the Peanuts gang proved to be anything but a success.  One would think that considering the lackluster response to that abomination of a Peanuts special, there wouldn’t be another attempt to update the Peanuts gang anymore.  That assumption obviously proved wrong as Blue Sky Studios—the studio behind the apparently never-ending Ice Age franchise—teamed up with Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan, and Cornelius Uliano to develop a “new” (the term “new” is used very loosely here) Peanuts feature in 2015.  The feature, simply titled The Peanuts Movie, tried to masquerade as something new and original but in reality was anything but.  The reality of this creation is that it was little more than a quick and largely forgettable cash grab for Blue Sky Studios.  This is exemplified largely through the movie’s piecemeal story.  That will be discussed shortly.  While the story presented within The Peanuts Movie is anything but laudable, the movie isn’t a complete loss.  To its credit (or to the credit of those behind its design, rather) there obviously were painstaking efforts to actually recreate the original look of the Peanuts universe.  To that extent that part of the movie must be lauded.  While the movie’s look does its part to at least try to save the movie’s presentation it sadly isn’t enough.  Along with the movie’s story, its young actors pale in comparison to those that originally brought the Peanuts gang to life so many years ago.  Yes, there were various groups that voiced the characters in those features.  Some were better in those cases than others, too.  This is one of those cases in which the cast was not as laudable.  Due to this and, again, the movie’s hardly thought out script the end result of this movie is a work that is one of the worst of the Peanuts presentations in recent memory.

Blue Sky Studios’ new Peanuts presentation is one of the franchise’s worst presentations in recent memory if not its worst to date. It is clear in watching the movie, which comes in at less than ninety minutes, that it is really little more than a cash grab for Blue Sky Studios.  That is most obvious in the movie’s script.  The script, which was crafted by the father-son duo of Craig and Bryan Schulz (Charles Schulz’s son and grandson), and co-writer Cornelius Uliano makes absolutely no effort to pay any true respect to the legacy of Charles Schulz’s characters or his own legacy for that matter.  Rather it just tosses together elements of said classics haphazardly with no regard for any real storytelling.  It’s obvious in what they did that they hoped that viewers’ nostalgia would kick in and overpower their common sense when watching the movie, thus leading them to love this mess of a movie–even though they know they shouldn’t.  Even at its base the movie’s story is anything but original.  It tells a story of how Charlie Brown first met the little red-haired girl.  Did the world really need this?  The answer is a simple “no.”  The whole story follows Charlie Brown as he attempts (yet again) to impress the little red-haired girl.  Along the way father and son, along with Uliano, add in the underlying story of Snoopy’s ongoing battle with the Red Baron.  Again, did the world need this update, too?  Once more the answer is “no.”  The only positive to the whole thing is that the Schulz’s and Uliano kept alive the tradition of not naming the little red-haired girl.  That’s good because there were actually two little red-haired girls—Heather and Peggy Jean—in the original franchise.  Heather was the original red-haired girl.  Her name was revealed in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown.  Peggy Jean was introduced in It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown.  Other than that, there is little to nothing redeeming about this movie’s script.  Because of this one can only wonder if the movie is worth even one watch.  It would be worth just one watch in order to see the disservice that it has done to the Peanuts legacy and that of Charles Schulz.  For all of the cons presented by The Peanuts Movie’s script the movie isn’t a total loss believe it not.  Those responsible for the movie’s look are to be applauded for their efforts.  That is because they obviously made a concerted effort to make The Peanuts Movie actually look, stylistically, like the original Peanuts TV features.  They didn’t just go the all-too-commonly used CG route in doing so either.  Rather its look boasts more of an odd, almost claymation look crossed with a hand drawn look.  Claymation likely wasn’t used in the special’s creation.  Odds are those behind the movie’s look did use CG.  But in using it to make the movie look so much like those aforementioned specials, they did an excellent job of attempting to actually pay tribute to that look.  It would have been so easy for them to just go the standard cookie cutter CG route.  But they opted not to go that route.  To that end they are to be applauded.  That is because the end result of that choice is a movie that is redeemed solely by that final look.  Sadly, it’s the movie’s only redeeming element.  For all of the positive that is offered by the movie’s look the work of the movie’s young cast counters it.

The people who were responsible for the look of The Peanuts Movie are to be commended for their work on the movie.  Sadly they are the only people involved in the movie’s creation to be commended.  The men behind the movie’s script did anything but pay tribute to the Peanuts legacy or that of Charles Schulz.  They are not the only ones involved in the movie that detracted from its enjoyment.  The movie’s voice cast put forth a valiant effort in their take on the classic characters.  Sadly they came up short in this case.  To their defense, though they are not the first group to tackle the Peanuts gang.  Those that are familiar with the classic Peanuts TV specials will recall that the voice cast did not remain entirely the same from one TV special to another.  And because of that some portrayals were better than others and vice versa.  This cast’s work is one of the lesser cases.  So many of the portrayals just felt forced here.  That is just this critic’s own interpretation of the cast’s work.  Again, the cast’s work wasn’t a total loss.  There have been far worse portrayals.  Marnette Patterson’s take on Lucy in It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992) is one of those lesser portrayals.  Todd Barbee and Melanie Kohn  were a little bit concerning in It’s A Mystery, Charlie Brown.  So again, while this movie’s cast wasn’t the best of any Peanuts feature it is hardly the worst cast.  To that end the cast’s work does take away from the movie’s experience.  But it doesn’t do so to the level of the movie’s writing team.  Keeping this in mind, The Peanuts Movie proves in the end to be a forgettable and unnecessary incarnation of Charles Schulz’s timeless characters.  And hopefully it will be the last installment for a very long time.

Blue Sky Studios’ “new” installment in the long-running Peanuts franchise is its most forgettable and unnecessary installment.  While it isn’t a total loss of a movie it still proves to be a work that never should have seen the light of day.  That’s the case even with the work of those responsible for the movie’s look.  That is because the script proves to be little more than a quick cash grab for Blue Sky Studios that pays little to not homage to the legacy of the Peanuts gang and that of its creator.  The cast, while not the worst to ever take on the voices of the Peanuts gang, is also hardly the best to ever tackle them.  All things considered The Peanuts Movie proves in the long run to again be the franchise’s most forgettable installment and its most unnecessary, too.  With any luck, it will be the franchise’s last installment for a very long time.  That is because the world doesn’t need “new” installments of Peanuts specials to appreciate Charles Schulz’s creations.  All it needs is the classics.

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