Review: The Peanuts Movie – Can the beloved American franchise hold up in the UK?

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I SHOULD confess that the new Peanuts movie has been my first real exposure to the Peanuts comics and franchise as a whole. Peanuts has never truly taken off here in the UK – not for lack of quality – but mainly because Peanuts has and always will be a reflection of Middle-America suburbia. It is a celebration of simpler times; not through the eyes of the current generation, but rather for the older generation looking back at their own childhood.

Now yes, of course, this feeling of childhood nostalgia is not exclusive to the middle-class American culture but a universal feeling that has only grown in popularity and become ever more profitable. Yet The Peanuts Movie doesn’t culturally translate fully from American to Britain. There were many set pieces that wouldn’t really connect to a British audience in the same way, such as the talent show, show and tell or the general imagery of the American suburbs. Despite this, the character of Charlie Brown is very relatable, undergoing feelings of inadequacy and lack of identity that always remains with each new generation.

Based off the comic by Schulz, Peanuts centres around the childhood of Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy and his friends as they get into adventures around their neighbourhood and school. In this movie, Charlie Brown has grown affections for the new red haired girl that has just moved in and believes that he needs to reinvent himself as a winner in order to get her attention. Rather than having one story to follow, the movie has broken itself down into a few miniature stories.

At one point it’s the book report that’s going to save the day, at another time it’s the talent show or the dance, all held together by a string of a plot. It’s also worth noting Snoopy’s sub-plot of his imaginary piloting adventures to save his imaginary girlfriend which the movie casually drifts into at random intervals. The plot is fundamentally non-existent, with all the characters being defined by one strong characteristic. Snoopy’s imaginary adventures, conversely, have no bearing on the movie.

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However, everything I should hate about this movie, I actually kind of love. Peanuts promotes a simpler time so it stands to reason that it follows a simple story, and what might seem small and insignificant can be huge and life-changing to a child. While every character has one defining feature, they have a lot of fun playing to those characteristics, and no single character feels over-used or unwanted; Snoopy’s airplane adventure makes for some of the most charming moments in the whole movie.

The animation is beautiful, the voice acting is perfect and the humour is hilarious. Plus it doesn’t try to update them to modern expectations; no computers, tablets and they play outside. It’s never mentioned what decade the film takes place in but you could tell it wasn’t this one.

All the regular Peanuts characters feel both fake and real, they play to their defining feature unbelievably so; one child is really into music so he constantly talks about Beethoven and always plays the piano, one child is always dirty, another is nerdy and shy. Yet they all feel fleshed out, they have their own dreams, hobbies, mannerisms, quirks and loyalties. After the 65 years that Peanuts has been around, the characters have aged, certainly, but in the process they’ve become timeless.

The only real criticism to make is that while Charlie Brown has to ask himself what makes him special, there’s nothing to say what makes the red haired girl so special that Charlie has to chase after her. If they took a moment to give her some personality it would be justified, but she’s only really there to move the plot along.

It feels so strange that in a movie dedicated to saying how important it is to have a good personality, they don’t give the main love interest (well crush interest anyway) any personality at all.
The Peanuts Movie isn’t going to change anyone’s life – I doubt a child would watch it and have it stick with them for long – but it is a very enjoyable experience. The charm and creativity put into this movie alone is worth going to see it. It’s a simple movie, but it’s refreshingly simple.

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