The Peanuts Movie is probably the most delightful unnecessary movie you’ll ever see. It’s delightful in the way it echoes and reflects the many beloved Charlie Brown TV specials and unnecessary for that same reason. The fact that it’s coming out smack dab in the middle of a fall season in which It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) all make their annual appearance on television only underlines the fact that while The Peanuts Movie at times is magical, it’s borrowed magic. But what it lacks in a genuine reason for being it more than makes for in sheer amiability.
Everything you ever loved about the TV specials makes its way into the movie: Charlie’s crush on the little red-haired girl (which provides the film with its story arc), Lucy the psychiatrist (still only charging a nickel!), Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, Pigpen’s clouds of dust, Schroeder performing classical music miracles on his toy piano, Linus’ attachment to his blanket, the kids’ anarchic dancing, and more. Wisely, the screenwriters, which includes late Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan, leave well enough alone when creating the characters’ world. There are no cell phones, computers, or Nike swooshes on clothing. There is a blue recycle bin, but that’s as far as it goes toward referencing the modern world. Instead, it’s all charmingly retro and all the more timeless for it.
The only sour note in an otherwise splendid production is the insertion of Meghan Trainor songs on the soundtrack. It’s not a knock against Trainor, but contemporary pop music does not belong in the Peanuts gang’s world. It’s distracting and more’s the pity, because the music is otherwise apt as the rest of the film. In particular, the decision to weave so much of the late Vince Guaraldi’s jazz, so familiar from the TV shows, was brilliant as well as an acknowledgment of exactly how integral that music was to creating those cartoon classics. Those gentle tunes that so came to define Charlie Brown’s world will come to be very familiar today’s children. For the rest of us, just hearing a few notes reverts us back to being small children enchanted by Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang for the very first time. That’s a beautiful thing and one of the things that The Peanuts Movie gets right. It’s a great film to see with kids, but it’s also a great movie to see to be a kid again. And a wonderful warm-up to the Thanksgiving and Christmas TV specials just waiting in the wings.—Pam Grady