Peanuts is a rated-G film in an era where most kids movies are PG-rated fart-fests, with toilet humor, innuendo and plenty of expletive-substitutes in order to “give the parents something to enjoy.” Most of those jokes go over the heads of the kids, the logic goes. That’s just the way our culture has (d)evolved over the years, and as a result the “G-rated” movie has gone the way of the dinosaur. Sure if you look hard enough you can find a movie rated “G” but usually those movies are made for babies and aren’t worth the money.
And then there are those G-rated movies that are so un-funny you’re tempted to just save your money and let the kids watch an old Disney movie instead. Even during the trailers for this movie there was a preview for a likely-“G-rated” film coming in January. I’m going to give you the title so that you will be better equipped to steer clear: Norm of the North. It’s about a bear and some guy with a plot to turn the Antarctic into a giant strip mall…I dunno, I couldn’t get past the horrid, lowest common denominator humor it was spouting. It’s also starring Rob Schneider, so there you go.
In fact…no…I’m going to show you the trailer just to illustrate what I’m talking about…
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That’s what passes for G-rated movies these days. Rob Schneider as a polar bear. Naturally the six year olds in the theater laughed their heads off, but the adults sat in silence. That’s not a movie you bother spending money on, especially not with the prices of movie tickets these days.
Peanuts on the other hand…
Peanuts is a rated-G movie that is genuinely entertaining for all ages, which is what the “G” is used to stand for (“General audiences accepted”). It’s humor is not “childish” so much as it is “simple.” It’s easily understood by all ages, but clever enough to be genuinely enjoyed by older folks too.
What works with this movie begins and ends with the obvious reverence the creators had for the old “Charlie Brown” TV Specials that are still enjoyed on Halloween, Christmas and other holidays to this day. Too often movies that adapt an old property like this do so without any respect for the power of nostalgia. Creators want to put their own spin on a property so they strip away the things people loved and want to see in the movie, all in the name of “modernization.”
Not “Peanuts.” The very first thing you experience in this movie is the sound of Schroder banging his piano, playing the “20th Century Fox” fanfare theme. The second thing you experience is the instantly-recognizable smooth jazz of Vince Guaraldi, whose unusual (and seemingly out of place in a kids show) piano tunes gave the old TV-specials their unique personality.
Throughout the movie references big and small appear, calling back to the Charlie Brown specials we all grew up with. It seems so obvious that they would lean on the past, but again, that’s just where a lot of adaptations drop the ball.
That’s not to say the movie is all references and no originality. There are actually two storylines going on and only one of them is lifted from the past. There’s Charlie Brown’s struggles with being a walking schadenfreude machine to his peers, while simultaneously trying to work up the courage to speak to the new pretty girl in town. At the same time there’s a sideplot that follows Snoopy’s imaginative adventures feuding with the Red Baron. This is the plot lifted right out of the old TV-specials, but enough twists and clever additions are given to it that it never feels derivative.
Charlie Brown’s plot is symbolized by his inability to do something as simple—yet delightfully “childish” (and I mean that in the best possible way)—as flying a kite. Of course he fails, and fails often. He’s Charlie Brown. If he succeeded he’d cease to be the character we love.
In fact, the mid-credits bonus scene features a retelling of the famous “kick the football, Charlie Brown” scene, with Lucy assuring Charlie Brown that this time she won’t pull the ball up and cause him to fall down. And just like always we almost believe her, and poor, gullible Charlie Brown falls for it, again. Charles Shultz famously decreed that, no matter what, Charlie Brown must never be allowed to actually kick the ball. His missing it—every time—and the fact that he keeps trying is the essence of the character.
Right down to the voices, the whole Peanuts gang is faithfully recreated, and that might be the biggest success of the film, considering some of the later TV-specials had some voicework that never measured up to the original works. In fact, Peanuts so brilliantly recreates all that makes Charlie Brown great, that if it weren’t for the slick new CG-animation, you’d think you were watching a long lost special from the 1960’s. When the movie was first announced there was skepticism from fans, and when the look was first shown, that skepticism turned to angry rejection. But seeing it in motion you don’t mind it, largely because the characters are so perfectly realized and appear just like you remember them.
For younger fans it’s a delight, with great humor that is “for kids” but not “dumb.” For older fans, CG-animation or not, it’s a wonderful trip down memory lane.
9/10 – If you have kids, or you just pine for nostalgia, give this movie your money.