In the midst of cynically recycled nostalgia, bombastic franchises, reboots and sequels aplenty, it’s surprising that two of the best family movies to come out in 2015 were based on material first published in the 1950s. First was the wonderfully gentle and English, Paddington, from the books by Michael Bond, and now comes its American counterpart, the simple and serene Peanuts Movie.
Based on Charles M. Schulz’s successful daily cartoon strip and incorporating elements from the TV specials, The Peanuts Movie captures the simplicity and wonder of childhood anxiety, neurosis and imagination. Broken into chapters, the movie follows Charlie Brown as he tries to fly a kite, kick Lucy’s football, get through a day without making a blockhead of himself and, hopefully, someday, say hello to the Little Red-Haired Girl across the street. Along the way Chuck is accompanied by his friends (Linus, Peppermint Patty, Sally), his foes (the great and powerful Lucy van Pelt) and his every trusty dog, Snoopy — who always manages to steal the show.
Anyone who has read a Peanuts comic strip, watched A Charlie Brown Christmas or purchased a Red Barron frozen pizza while dreaming of the World War I Flying Ace will recognize every moment in The Peanuts Movie. This is a labor of love, not subversion, from screenwriters Cornelius Uliano and Craig and Brian Schulz (the creator’s son and grandson). There is money to be made with Peanuts material and merchandising, but these writers, along with director Steve Martino, know that the success of Peanuts comes not from exploitation, but from the care Schulz gave his characters. For Schulz, life is the threads of pessimism wrapped inside a beating heart of kindness. That sensibility imbues every frame, every image and every line in the film.
Using computer-generated graphics, The Peanuts Movie uses the familiar flat, almost two-dimensional design for the characters — which actually looks quite good in 3-D — with images from Schulz’s strips incorporated into the character’s thought bubbles. But the scene-stealers belong to Snoopy’s fantasies as the World War I Flying Ace rescuing a captured pilot, Fifi, from the dreaded Red Barron. In these spectacular scenes of chase, the backgrounds are lush with a painterly quality, making the image of a cartoon dog flying a red doghouse all the more enjoyable.
The end result is a symphony of pleasantries. The Peanuts Movie eschews conflict, antagonism and despair; choosing instead to wrap its audience in the warmth of Linus’ security blanket. It’s a welcome feeling, and it’s just the sort of movie that Inside Out’s Joy would love to put on repeat for Riley. Of course, Inside Out was a not-so-gentle reminder that life does not rely on joy alone, but sadness, anger, fear and disgust as well. However, we don’t need to be sad all the time. We can allow ourselves a little bit of that saccharine joy every now and then. For those moments, we have Charlie Brown and his gang, along with the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. We have The Peanuts Movie.
ON THE BILL: The Peanuts Movie, Century Boulder, 1700 29th St., Boulder, 303-444-0583. Tickets start at $7.65, www.cinemark.com.