Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts” characters — in comic strips, books, TV specials and movies — are such a huge part of so many childhoods, the makers of the new “The Peanuts Movie” must have felt they were skating on thin ice trying to acknowledge everything that gave them such international appeal.
Yet director Steve Martino, and co-writers Craig Schulz and Bryan Schulz (Charles’ son and grandson, respectively) created a warmhearted, gentle and funny animated film, which has only a few moments of uncertainty that upset its easy flow.
Of course, no one except Charles, who died in 2000, could have written a movie exactly the way he wanted it, but this team has done an admirable job. They decided to make poor bad-luck Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) into a character worth admiring, focusing on the “you’re a good man” aspect, and making him into an honest, hopeful soul.
So when bad things happen to him, such as encounters with a kite-eating tree or a fire-alarm sprinkler, the moments play more like big slapstick than they do clever humor. Charlie Brown is sympathetic, and we’re a bit reluctant to laugh at him.
The story takes place over the course of a school year, as Charlie Brown tries to win the affection of the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) without actually having the nerve to speak to her.
He eventually gets a top test score and temporarily becomes the school hero; his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) cashes in and sells T-shirts and mugs.
Meanwhile, Linus (Alexander Garfin) produces a model of the Red Baron’s plane, providing an origin story for Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace (Snoopy and Woodstock’s voices were provided by the late Bill Melendez).
Snoopy’s fantasy doghouse flying sequences are 3D action spectaculars, with gravity-defying close calls, and attempts to rescue a female beagle named Fifi.
With the help of a laid-back score by Christophe Beck that pays tribute to the great Vince Guaraldi, the movie allows time for self-contained segments, including Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) charging five cents for psychiatric help.
Even the computer-generated animation is designed to honor the original, flat drawings, and although it feels sometimes strange, it’s mostly comfortable and familiar.
“The Peanuts Movie” isn’t quite as unique as a Charles Schulz original might have been, but taken side-by-side with previous motion pictures like “Snoopy Come Home” (1972) and “Race for Your Life Charlie Brown” (1977), it’s a worthy addition to the supper dish.
The Peanuts Movie
Starring: Voices of Noah Schnapp, Alexander Garfin, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets
Written by: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano
Directed by: Steve Martino
Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes