I had heard that the Peanuts movie was cute, though not groundbreaking — faithful enough to the old TV specials that you wouldn’t really miss much skipping it and rewatching those. We went to see it with the kids, and I have to say, that assessment misses the mark.
Yes, it’s a fairly comfortable homage. There’s plenty of nostalgia, and even some verbatim quotes. And I have no idea how they found voice actors that sound so much like my memory of the shows. The casting is absolutely seamless.
But while the visual style remains steadfastly Schulz, the dogfight scenes and slapstick bits do expand the vocabulary of that style. It’s like a snowball made bigger, but it’s still snow throughout.
And then there’s the core message of the film. It didn’t really have to have one, it could have been a successful enough movie even just being a cute homage. But at a deeper level it’s about choosing whose opinion matters.
Charlie Brown is everyman, of course, with his insecurities and misfortunes. His identifiability is a big part of his appeal, and pretty pivotal for the whole strip. But toward the end of the movie, I began to realize that Charlie Brown’s biggest problem is just being way too concerned with what everyone thinks of him.
Then I noticed that we’ve been set up to spend the whole movie sympathizing with this. Even as he finally connects with the little red haired girl and she validates him, the message is that he needs this validation. I felt so disappointed to realize this in his moment of triumph. “Here he is, defining his happiness in terms of someone else. Again.”
But here’s what makes it okay: she’s the right person for him to listen to. She sees his strengths and values them, and they’re the things he needs to value in himself. His real problem is that he’s spent the whole movie listening to Lucy instead. That’s the core message. And it’s that message that elevates this movie beyond “cute cartoon for the grandparents to see with their little ones.”
On the way back to the car, Laura asked Lydia, “Who’s your favorite character?”
“The little red haired girl?”
At first blush I was mildly disappointed, because that response seemed kinda spoon-fed to her. As I knew her from the comic strip, the little red haired girl can’t even be called a proper character; not only is she one-dimensional, but that single dimension is ineffability. But after a moment I remembered that her character is revealed at the end, and it really does reflect Lydia. And it’s in that moment that the movie transcends its inspiration.