In the early winter of 1981 I spent a month in the hospital as a result of a ruptured appendix. I had plenty of time to lie in bed and read comics. During my stay my parents bought me a 150+ page comic collection of nothing but Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and the whole gang to keep me company. I fell in love with the Peanuts gang that month, and our friendship continues to this day. Since that time in the hospital (coincidentally, my surgeon’s name was Charles Schultz), I have watched almost every cartoon and movie that was made with the Peanuts gang. I religiously watched “The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show” on Saturday mornings, and I can still hear that great theme song today. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and its soundtrack are a huge part of my Christmas season every year. I have watched “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” and “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” so many times I could recite them almost entirely from memory. I tell you all of this to properly emphasize that I am a HUGE fan of Charlie Brown and the work of Charles Schulz.
I went into the movie theater with really no expectations, remembering how so many of the more recently-produced TV cartoons couldn’t hold a candle to the greats from my youth. I might have had a few concerns about a computer-generated cartoon of my beloved friends, but I could tell from the trailers that the intent was to create a three-dimensional version of the comic scripts I’d read in the hospital all those years ago.
I have to give the greatest of kudos to the writers, producers and director who succeeded in creating something that was visually appealing, humorous, uplifting and entertaining as anything we’d expect from the Peanuts gang. You could tell they all took great care to see that the spirit of the comic script, the ongoing/recurring storylines and the base personalities of all the characters were preserved intact. So many of the best themes were included in the film from Charlie Brown’s failed attempts to fly a kite, win a baseball game or kick a football, to Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, the little red-headed girl, Lucy and her psychiatric help desk, the enduring friendship and hilarious interaction between Snoopy and Woodstock (complete with their original voices and exclamations), Peppermint Patty and her dominating personality, and the most important theme of almost every Charlie Brown story ever told: that even the feeblest of us can rise above our struggles and mediocrity to be recognized as the wonderful person they are. The filmmakers included so many of our favorite aspects of the Peanuts world from Vince Guaraldi’s amazing Christmas music to Schroeder’s love of Beethoven (thanks also for putting my favorite classical piece, “Moonlight Sonata,” in as well!) to the Great Pumpkin to Lucy’s ice skating prowess, her one-sided crush on Schroeder and even to her own insecurities. I will admit they threw in so many tidbits of Peanuts history that anyone unfamiliar with the series might not recognize all of the inside jokes and secrets.
The filmmakers also added plenty of new jokes and new approaches to Peanuts’ stories that are worth commending. I thought they nailed Snoopy and every attempt he made to inject himself into the life of his owner and his friends. His expressions and behaviors are perfect, and I think anyone who didn’t know Snoopy before going into the film will understand him completely by the end (including a nice Joe Cool appearance!). I liked Patty crushing on Pig Pen who is normally ostracized from group activities, and Lucy questioning whether she’s ever treated Charlie Brown fairly rather than just falling back on her default bully nature.
But it was Charlie Brown that developed the most as a character in the film. You don’t see Charlie Brown simply identify and accept his mediocrity like he might have in the comics. You see him try to rise above a situation, each time only to be thwarted by an unpredictable confluence of circumstances. You really feel for Charlie Brown by the end of the film, the nice kid who just couldn’t get a break but who never gave up, who never stopped believing in himself. How many kids these days need that kind of example in their lives? He has his best friend Snoopy by his side to help, his sister to feed on his popularity while still supporting him, and his other friends who gladly set aside their past frustrations with him and celebrate his successes. We should all be so lucky to be surrounded by such people, even if they occasionally call us blockheads or question our decisions to our faces.
The most impressive parts of the movie were by far the World War I Flying Ace scenes. Snoopy and his doghouse are finally given the medium to (pardon the pun) soar and entertain. The animation is top notch, and you really feel (far better than in any cartoon before) that you’re flying alongside Snoopy on his adventures. It gives the modern kid who needs to feel the thrill and excitement of adventure in their cartoons something to look forward to in this movie, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.
There is so much for a modern kid to take from this movie, especially any kid who can identify with Charlie Brown in their own life. I’m sure it’s clear by now that I sure did as a child, and even now I can remember vividly experiencing so many of the ups and downs that Charlie Brown endured during this movie. For an hour and a half I was that kid again, lying in that hospital room or on the couch in my living room, watching a kindred spirit overcome the trials and adventures in his life in the hopes of getting the girl. I doubt there is any greater review that I could give, or that the makers of the film could ever want, for this fun and wonderful movie.
So to end this review, I give you my favorite part of the movie … Pig Pen getting down at the Winter Dance (just like I did back in the day, complete with the off look by the other kids around me):