There's an undeniable - and inescapable - irony in invoking a sense of respect to the spirit and letter of an art work, when that work has been merchandised and exploited in consumer culture over the past half century. Yet, for its one-time omnipresence in the derived consumer products aisle, Charles Schulz never lost track of the complex simplicity at the heart of the Peanuts comic strips. By reducing serious grown-up issues to the piece-meal level of kids' experiences, the Peanuts gang tracked back the universality of life experiences through many different generations.
It's worth asking whether a new Peanuts feature makes sense in a day and age suffused with characters exploited in all sorts of multimedia ancillary, and especially a Peanuts movie closely held by the Schulz estate (the script is credited to son Craig and grandson Bryan) and refusing to embellish the series' original timeless small town universe with any sort of contemporary update (no computers, cellphones or modern-day implements here). Artistically, at least, the Blue Sky Studios production honors both Schulz's deceptively simple artwork and the Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez TV specials and feature films of the sixties and seventies (openly referenced and paid tribute to).
The original flat, kids'-eye-view framings remain intact through The Peanuts Movie's concession to contemporary CG animation, but the shading, volume and colouring remain delicately faithful to the strips' styles. And while there's little in the script that will come as a surprise to the series' long-term fans, it works wonders as an entry-level overview of the strip's central plotlines - Charlie Brown's continual desire to be a better person while tripping all over his well-meaning propositions, his terminal shyness and admiration from afar for the Little Red-Headed Girl and his constant bullying by classmate Lucy, and of course his pet beagle Snoopy's wide-eyed fantasies of being a WWI flying ace.
What's best about it is the sense that The Peanuts Movie has been designed as a "gateway" work to introduce the strip to younger audiences while building bridges to the older specials; especially noteworthy is the continuous exploration of the smallest, simplest things in life as wonderful adventures in learning how to be yourself. It's a lovely, thoughtful reminder that a modern-day kids' movie can be as simple and as meaningful as just going for a walk in the park - and a film that wears its respect for its source material as a mark of pride.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE
USA, 2015, 88 minutes
Voiced by Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets, Alex Garfin, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi, Troy Andrews, Kristin Chenoweth, Bill Melendez
Directed by Steve Martino; screenplay by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano based on the Peanuts comic strips by Charles M. Schulz; cinematography by Renato Falcão (colour); music by Christophe Beck; art director Nash Dunnigan; film editor Randy Trager; co-edited by Christopher Campbell; produced by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, Mr. Uliano, Paul Feig and Michael J. Travers; a Blue Sky Studios production presented by Twentieth Century Fox Animation
Screened December 15th 2015, UCI El Corte Inglés 12, Lisbon