New Peanuts movie keeps spirit of creator’s vision alive

I’m a sucker for the classics, for originals. I like many of the things I saw and experienced from my childhood, and I always feel a little bit of trepidation when there’s an announcement that something is going to be redone, revamped or rebooted. Those terms are usually code for “We’ve seen it done this way for X years, and now it’s old and tired, so we’re going to kick the old concept to the curb and change the vision entirely.”

That usually ends in disaster. Not always, but the odds of disaster are favorable.

Those people who have known me for a long time know I’ve always enjoyed Peanuts, the comic strip started in 1950 by the late Charles Schulz. I grew up on the adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder and all the rest.

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The Peanuts comic strip published on the date the author was born.

It was not just the daily strips unfolding in my friendly neighborhood newspaper, it was the television specials and movies that drew me in, as well. In fact, if you look at my wardrobe, you will see a number of T-shirts with Snoopy and others on them.

When Charles Schulz ended the strip in early 2000, it felt like the end of an era. I’d enjoyed the simple tales and life lessons of Peanuts for just 23 years, so I could just imagine how those who’d been on the ride from the beginning must have felt. What was really weird was how only a few weeks had passed since the last strip when word broke that the creator had passed away. It felt like the world of Peanuts would never be the same again.

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Charles Schulz’s final comic strip.

I think that was part of the reason why I was a little worried when word broke a couple of years ago that a new Peanuts movie was in the work. I thought some young hotshot might try to make the characters hip and happening for the 21st century—give Charlie Brown some tattoos and a nose ring, make Snoopy the Spuds MacKenzie of today and other visions to horrifying to put into words.

Factor in that this was going to be the first time the Peanuts characters would be computer-animated, and my fears increased. I’ve seen some of the computer-animated movies that have come out, and I’ve only been impressed with a few of them. The thought of someone potentially making bad caricatures of one of my favorite comic strips was akin to finding out the Easter Bunny wasn’t real.

Oops! I hope there aren’t any young people reading this. I might have just ruined Easter for a few families.

I digress.

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Here’s the movie poster I bought after the movie came out. I feel it’s important to have Peanuts on hand for house guests.

I watched the initial trailers, and they showed some promise, a nostalgic blast from the past. My only concern was, what if they put all the funny stuff in the trailers, and the movie turned out to be a dud? The moment of truth came in November, when the movie was finally released. At about 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, the earliest time the movie was showing at the movie theater in Shawano, I sat down with my popcorn and soda and prayed I was not going to be witnessing something that would make the late, great Charles Schulz do barrel rolls in his grave.

The good news is that my fears proved to be unfounded. The movie was surprisingly accurate to the comic strip and the films that had come before it. Lucy was still crabby and had her psychiatric booth, and the price was still 5 cents. Snoopy still used his doghouse as the Sopwith Camel, becoming a World War I flying ace and zooming off to do battle with the villainous Red Baron. Of course, our hero, Charlie Brown still saw his kites end up in trees, saw himself as a nobody and still pined for the unnamed little red-haired girl.

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A classic shot of a boy and his dog. (Image courtesy Blue Sky Studios)

Other details stayed true to the original comic strip, as well. You didn’t see the characters working on computers or communicating with each other via text messaging. The overall film stuck with the classic, providing just enough fresh humor to make it funny for a new generation, like when little Sally is preparing shirts, hats and mugs to sell to the students in the wake of her brother’s newfound success.

I later found out that the main reason the story stayed so true to Schulz’s vision was because his son and grandson were the driving force behind the movie. I hope that any future movies, if any, stay within the family, because it’s clear that the future generations are fiercely protective of Schulz’s legacy.

After seeing the movie, I told friends and family about it. The first question they asked was whether I’d preordered the DVD yet. I told them I had not, and there was a good reason for that—it wasn’t available for preorder at the time.

Now, though, I have the DVD in my possession, and it has been watched a number of times since it arrived Wednesday. I might overdose on Peanuts, but you have to admit it’s a good thing to get hooked on.

One more note: I came across a site that allows you to make yourself into a Peanuts character. I think I look rather distinguished, don’t you?

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