Charlie Brown Modernizes and Goes Back to the Future!

Director: STEVE MARTINO/2015

While this analogy won’t exactly hold up, the new The Peanuts Movie and its storied history is very similar to the timeline of the story of Back to the Future parts I and II.  The origin story of Charles M. Schulz’ classic comic strip is 1950, when it debuted, five years before the year 1955 when Marty McFly must travel back in time to help his parents fall in love. Fast forward to this year, which just saw the anniversary of the October date Marty and Doc Brown fly into the far-off future of 2015 to fix the next generation of McFlys, which is also the year, incidentally, that the latest Charlie Brown film comes out to give a new generation of children a fix of their own.

Its been nearly 35 years since Charlie Brown and company have graced the big screen (5 years before the “modern” 1985 setting of the original Back to the Future), and lots has changed.  But the more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.  Charlie Brown is no exception and, for me, this is welcomed news.  His newest adventure comes in the form of The Peanuts Movie which sees the Peanuts comic strip gang being brought into the future for the first time through the use of computer-generated animation and in 3D no less.  And while this has been done to varying effect in film reboots as in the more recent update, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, here it is not a drastic change but merely a slightly different canvas to provide us with what we have always loved.

Written by series creator Charles M. Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan, along with Cornelius Uliano, The Peanuts Movie seeks to go back to the future by bringing us everything we love about these characters.  The classic characters, coupled with some of their most famous mannerisms and idiosyncrasies are back in full force.  From Snoopy’s exploits against his nemesis the Red Baron, to his Joe Cool alter ego, to Lucy’s 5-cent Psychiatric practice and Pig Pen’s filth, not much has changed in the 65 years of this series.

The film starts off with loving nods to the world Charles M. Schulz built with Schroeder playing the classic 20th Century Fox theme, to the first 3D images being the falling snow reminiscent of A Charlie Brown Christmas with Vince Guaraldi’s music playing intermittently before giving way to Christophe Beck’s new score.  There is the ice skating scenes, Charlie Brown’s inability to fly a kite or kick a football, or strike out the batter from the pitcher’s mound.  All of it is woven into a throwback tale of Charlie Brown falling head-over-heels for the girl with red hair who is in his class at school.

While the animation is new and crisp, the writers and producers have wisely stuck to the everything classic about this franchise, even finding voice actors that match those from the 1960’s classic episodes perfectly rather than populate the voice talent with hip and upcoming names people might know.  This keeps the focus squarely on where it should be…the story. Technologically speaking, there are no real updates to speak of.  No internet or computers, cell phones, or video games. This group of children still love to play outside, wax poetically about all manner of philosophy, demonstrate their precociousness, while hanging on to the innocence that we all wish for our children in this very modern world.  Snoopy still uses his typewriter and still does battle with a World War I flying ace….not a more modern war analogy.

In this way, it will stand in stark contrast to other family fare that too often seeks to appeal to its audience through sarcasm and rudeness by its younger cast, or appeals to modern pop-culture.  There is sarcasm in the Peanuts in the form it has always existed, and the occasional put downs of “you block-head”, but at its heart is the values and ideals that have always come through.  Charlie Brown is still the lovable loser who shows the value of persistence and never giving up, with a heart of gold, even if it is wrapped in a slight wrapping of frustration and melancholy.  Linus is still the quiet encourager with wisdom well-beyond his blanket-dependent years.

The 3D animation, and one dance song, are really the only hints of modernity in the film.  To its credit, this forsaking of the new and sticking with the formula that has created the timeless classics ofA Charlie Brown Christmas, and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, creates a modern film that harkens back to the nostalgia we all feel for these characters.  It breathes new life into an old franchise without having to sacrifice anything in the process.  In this way, The Peanuts Movie stands as a love letter to Charles M. Schulz himself and proves you can modernize by lifting up the timeless and classic notions that resonated with our culture 65 years ago.  Now 50 years after the debut of Charlie Brown’s most famous Christmas special, this new feature film brings a new generation a story that calls us back to an uncynical world filled with hope and possibilities.  Leave it to Charlie Brown to take us back to the future!