The Today Show’s attempt to turn the CGI versions of Charles Schulz’s iconic characters into real-world costumes may have resulted in a walking nightmare out of Joe Dante’s “Twilight Zone” segment, but “The Peanuts Movie” itself is an affectionate tribute to the late cartoonist’s pen-and-ink world. Hewing closer to the warmhearted tone of the Schulz-approved animated specials directed by Bill Melendez, whose archived voice tracks are used to voice Snoopy and Woodstock in the new film, “TPM” lacks the bite of Schulz’s comic strip, which for those unfamiliar with its early decades could be dark and even morbid at times, as this pairing of classic “Peanuts” panels with Smiths lyrics pointedly underlines. But according to the first reviews, the movie, co-written by Schulz’s son, Craig, and directed by “Horton Hears a Who’s” Steve Martino, steers clear of the reflexive snark that infects so many contemporary kid-focused movies, providing a thoroughly family-friendly experience.
Critics split on how effective Blue Sky’s digital 3D animation is at either capturing or updating Schulz’s distinctive style; the previous animated versions were almost flagrantly 2D, with little in the way of shading or texture. But if “The Peanuts Movie” doesn’t break any new ground, neither does it disgrace or disregard what came before it. If it’s nothing but a gateway drug for a new generation, then it’s a job well done.
Peter Debruge, Variety
From the very outset, following a version of the Fox fanfare delivered by none other than resident piano prodigy Schroeder, the film set the stage with a hand-doodled snowfall: squiggly black balls loosely sketched in a rectangular frame, which fades from what could be one of Schulz’s comicstrip panels into a pleasant-looking CG alternative. It was no small challenge for the Blue Sky team to adapt the handful of expressions and poses Schulz recycled countless times over the course of his career into what are meant to be fully articulated CG character rigs. (The sheer effort involved will be lost on most audiences, even many professionals in the animated community — not unlike last year’s “The Lego Movie,” which innovated in order to simulate the look of crude stop-motion.) Though actual hand-drawn touches do appear on occasion, from floating red hearts to an elaborate animated daydream sequence, the objective was clearly to find a vibrant, visually interesting homologue for fundamentally flat elements, all the while incorporating (or at least paying homage to) Schulz’s signature wobbly lines.
Michael Rechtschaffen, Hollywood Reporter
All the touchstones are in play, including CB’s kite-flying challenges and Lucy’s counseling sessions (still 5 cents), as are all the main characters, voiced, for the most part, by actual kids. Similar care has been notably taken with those 3D character renderings which manage to bring warmth into an often soul-less technology by retaining Schulz’s deceptively simple, remarkably expressive squiggles depicting eyebrows and smiles rather than attempting to go for deeper visual dimension. That same respect for the past can be found in the script, credited to Schulz’s son, Craig, and grandson Bryan, along with the younger Schulz’s writing partner Cornelius Uliano, which still favors rotary telephones and manual typewriters, although introducing blue recycling boxes into the mix. Also wisely retained are Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy themes, performed here by David Benoit, which mesh nicely with Christophe Beck’s original score. Only Meghan Trainor’s bouncy dance-pop contribution “Better When I’m Dancin'” feels a bit out of place in an otherwise caringly organic, affectionately composed love letter to Charles Schulz.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
“Peanuts” on the page had an adult sensibility that children could also enjoy, but the animated versions have always been aimed at kids, with enough subtlety and intelligence that grown-ups could also be entertained. “The Peanuts Movie” maintains this tradition; it’s a kid movie through and through, but care has been taken not to disrupt the gentle timelessness of the TV cartoons. (The original strips, if you go back and read them, never shied away from topical references.) “Peanuts” purists looking to be rankled will no doubt find plenty to cause alarm. There’s the CG animation, and the fact that we see and hear so much of the mysterious Red-Haired Girl (always off-panel in the strips, though she did make some TV appearances), and a scene in which Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) acknowledges that Snoopy is indeed a dog and not just a kid with a big nose. (Is this a first in the “Peanuts” canon?) But I suspect that for young audiences, “The Peanuts Movie” will eventually be as much of a launching pad for the work of Charles M. Schulz as previous movie and TV iterations were for their parents.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
Initially, the film radiates a real warmth, Martino and his creative team painstakingly and affectionately mimicking the look and temperament of those earlier eras. But pretty soon, what becomes clear is that, in their quest to be reverent to the “Peanuts” of yesteryear, the filmmakers aren’t going to add much new, instead they are content to provide a sort of greatest-hits compilation of enduring moments. Charlie remains the lovable, sensitive sad-sack, just as his companions have emerged on the big-screen exactly as one remembered them. But the fidelity slowly starts to feel less like love and more like meticulous brand maintenance, as if “The Peanuts Movie’s” main mission was preserving the public’s memory of these characters by recycling what had once made them so special.