Happiness is five different crayons, catching a firefly and knowing creators of The Peanuts Movie got it right.
This fifth and most elaborate big-screen version of Charles M. Schulz's beloved comic strip is another sort of modern animation miracle. In an age of digital chaos and deep emotional themes The Peanuts Movie keeps things sweet and simple, perfectly in tune with the qualities Schulz fans adore.
Consider it a result of family pride, with Schulz's sons co-writing the screenplay to legacy specifications. Director Steve Martino is comfortable with homage, after working with Dr. Seuss' estate for Horton Hears a Who. Nothing in The Peanuts Movie would be unsuitable in any strip, movie or TV special before it.
Charlie Brown, well-voiced by 10-year-old Noah Schapp, is still a lovable everykid, still searching for anything to make him feel good about himself. Advice from his classmate Lucy Van Pelt (Hadley Belle Miller) still costs a nickel and hurts more than it helps. Linus, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, all here as if stepping out of a Christmas special 50 more innocent years ago.
The plot is as arbitrary as Schulz's drawing whims, a compilation of his greatest strokes from kite calamities to Joe Cool. Charlie Brown's crush on the Little Red-Haired Girl and efforts to impress her are central, leading to gentle embarrassments at a school dance, talent show and class assembly.
Sure, all of this material was covered before on stage and television. Familiarity is part of Peanuts' appeal, knowing what to expect from longtime friends.
Meanwhile, Snoopy's attempts to write a World War I novel — still on a old-fashioned typewriter — threatens to take over the movie's second half. In the strip, Snoopy fantasized about a wartime romance that the movie shows, with Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth), a French poodle pilot snatched by the Red Baron. It's the movie's widest steer from nostalgia, a mild pandering like the out-of-place Meaghan Trainor tune.
Martino's visual palette retains traces of the comic strip's thin-line shapes and squiggles despite a mandatory upgrade to 3-D. The effect is tastefully managed, with only Snoopy's fantasy dogfights with the Red Baron edging toward optical overkill. Best of all, the character designs don't have that plastic chew-toy look 3-D can cause.
The Peanuts Movie is certain to satisfy longtime fans and perhaps make new ones, but who knows? Innocence is a tough sell these days. Happiness is the occasional movie that tries.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.