[Screen It]


(2015) (voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller) (G)

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Computer-Animated Comedy: A down on his luck kid who always keeps trying to succeed but inevitably ends up failing hopes he can impress the new girl at school who's moved in across the street from him.
In an ordinary suburban neighborhood, Charlie Brown (voice of NOAH SCHNAPP) is an ordinary kid who's always determined to succeed -- at being a baseball pitcher or even just flying a kite -- but always ends up failing for one reason or another. His younger sister, Sally (voice of MARIEL SHEETS), still looks up to him, and he has a good set of friends, including Linus (voice of ALEXANDER GARFIN), ever the voice of reason. But Linus' sister, Lucy (voice of HADLEY BELLE MILLER), is sometimes a thorn in Charlie Brown's side. That is, when she's not dispensing psychiatric help for a nickel or making eyes at Schroeder (voice of NOAH JOHNSTON) who's usually playing Beethoven on his tiny piano.

Tomboy Peppermint Patty (voice of VENUS SCHULTHEIS), who's nearly always accompanied by her friend Marcie (voice of REBECCA BLOOM), also likes "Chuck," but he's set his eyes on The Little Red-Haired Girl (voice of FRANCESCA CAPALDI) who's just enrolled at their school and moved in across the street from him. His shyness, however, stops him from talking to her, much to the chagrin of his mischievous pet dog, Snoopy (sounds by BILL MELENDEZ), who does what he can to fix that problem, all while accompanied by his small bird friend, Woodstock (sounds by BILL MELENDEZ).

That is, when Snoopy's not involved in daydreaming about the alluring poodle, Fifi (sounds by KRISTIN CHENOWETH), and imagining having to rescue her via aerial dogfights with the WWI German flying ace, the Red Baron. As all of that occurs and the year progresses from winter through spring and into early summer, Charlie Brown tries to muster up the courage to talk to the new girl.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
It's quite common for those who love certain novels to either be lukewarm to filmed adaptations of said works or have reactions ranging from disappointment to outright hatred. After all, readers invest time and emotional energy into delving through such literary works, including creating an imagined, visual version inside their heads that are unique to them and no one else.

Comic strips in the newspaper also have their devoted fans, but much less material with which to become enamored with, mainly due to the limited real estate in said papers. Nonetheless, they likewise have varying responses when their favorite strip characters and storylines are turned into moving pictures.

I was only a year old when characters from Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts comic strip, then 15 years in the running, arrived on the small screen in the form of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," so I have no idea what the popular response was at the time (although the critics heaped praise on it). Since then, it's become -- much like the follow-ups "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" -- annual viewing on TV and has delighted millions of kids and adults alike in the intervening years.

Now, fifty years after the Christmas show's first airing, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang hit the big screen in the feature length, 3D film "The Peanuts Movie." Obviously not wanting to make waves either with the strip's fan base or the Schulz legacy, screenwriters Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano along with director Steve Martino ("Ice Age: Continental Drift," "Horton Hears a Who!") have painstakingly made sure to remain ultra faithful to the source material.

The result is a pic that might not reach or match the creative heights of Pixar's best animated films (or the handful of similarly excellent offerings from rival studios), but it's undeniably charming and decidedly old-fashioned for fans of the strip, TV shows or both. Unlike those original shows, however, this one's been crafted via computer-animation, thus giving the characters -- Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy and more -- a rounded depth for the first time. But in keeping with the "don't rock the boat" mindset, they still feature the same facial and body attributes as in prior incarnations.

While there's certainly nothing complicated about those characters or the world in which they appear, the film jumps into the story without much in the way of explanation for anyone new to the offering, and it's decidedly not an origins tale (unlike so many comic book franchises that employ such narratives). Instead, we get a bare bones plot where Charlie Brown is still the likeable loser who -- due to his own actions or simple circumstance -- manages to fail time and again.

He hopes for a second chance when "The Little Red-Haired Girl" (really, she has no other name) shows up not just as the new girl in school, but also as his new neighbor across the street. Instantly smitten, he realizes she has no knowledge of his track record and thus might be attracted back toward him. There's that little nagging issue of shyness and worries that he's not worthy, though, that repeatedly threaten to derail his little, hopeful, budding romance.

And that's really about all there is to sustain the film's 88-minute runtime (including credits). Sure, the regular cast of characters is present and do their standard things previously seen in the strip and TV show. And Snoopy (and his pal Woodstock) provide much of the comic relief in their usual shenanigans as well as repeatedly returning to flights of fancy about being a WWI flying ace and battling the Red Baron (and trying to impress a poodle named Fifi).

Little kids will probably love most if not all of it (including lots of slapstick material), while adults who grew up with the characters could get that warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia while watching it. And I certainly appreciate sticking with what worked without trying to update everything and add artificial hipness (notwithstanding some pop songs added to help boost soundtrack sales beyond Christophe Beck doing the familiar jazz piano score).

But I just felt like the plot needed a little more something to help flesh it out as what's present sometimes feels a bit strained in supporting the far longer than normal (for Peanuts material anyway) runtime. In the end, I enjoyed what was offered enough -- as it took me back to my childhood of watching the old shows and reading the strip in the daily funnies -- to rate "The Peanuts Movie" a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 1, 2015 / Posted November 6, 2015

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