Does 'The Peanuts Movie' retain the spirit of Charles Schulz's characters?

A new movie about the Peanuts characters is heading to theaters. The Peanuts gang is beloved after a decades-long comic strip and popular animated TV specials like 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' – does the new movie measure up?

Blue Sky Animation/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/AP
'The Peanuts Movie' is directed by Steve Martino.

Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang is coming to the big screen with the upcoming film “The Peanuts Movie,” which will be released on Nov. 6.

Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy originated in a comic strip by Mr. Schulz which ran for nearly 50 years. Reprints are still published daily in most American papers. On television, the characters are remembered for such holiday specials as “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” 

New cartoon specials have been broadcast in recent years, including “Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown” and “He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown.”

When it was announced that a new film about the characters was coming to movie theaters, many fans feared Hollywood would mess up this beloved property. Fans of books by Dr. Seuss and the group Alvin and the Chipmunks, for example, have seen the characters adapted in such critically panned movies as 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 2003’s “The Cat in the Hat,” and the “Chipmunks” series, which will include a fourth movie coming out this December.

Not only were these movies received negatively by critics but reviewers complained of contemporary pop hits that seemed shoehorned in and risqué jokes being inserted into the stories, as when the Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers) made inappropriate remarks or when Alvin and the Chipmunks’ friends the Chipettes performed “Single Ladies.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case for “Peanuts,” however. A trailer released this summer had fans feeling optimistic and now critics are saying the feel of the original cartoons is there in the new “Peanuts” movie. Variety writer Peter Debruge wrote, “The late Charles M. Schulz almost surely would have appreciated the result, which presents a wholesome, goody-goody view of childhood emotional challenges,” though he did call the story “slender.” Alonso Duralde of TheWrap wrote that the film is “a kid movie through and through, but care has been taken not to disrupt the gentle timelessness of the TV cartoons … the plot, such as it is, mainly exists as a framework for beloved 'Peanuts' tropes … it nonetheless respects the importance of failure and disappointment that Schulz always included in his storytelling.” And Michael Rechtshaffen of the Hollywood Reporter found the movie to be “a delightful romp that captures the spirit of the adored 65-year-old comic strip … [those behind the movie] have ... brought the Peanuts gang into the 21st century without betraying that crucial, fondly nostalgic element … thoroughly engaging.”

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