“The Peanuts Movie” may be simultaneously the most charming and the most daring experiment in human genetics ever conducted. At issue is whether the character summaries and back stories of fictional pop-culture figures can be passed from one generation to the next solely through DNA
The movie is a pleasant G-rated grab bag of everything people over a certain age know and love from the Charles M. Schulz comic strip and its many offshoots, all centered, of course, on Charlie Brown. The question, though, is whether the 7-year-old demographic will fully grasp the intricate dynamics of the universe Schulz created around Charlie Brown over many decades.
Young children may have a passing acquaintance with the “Peanuts” gang from the annual holiday television specials and such, but presumably they aren’t as thoroughly versed as youngsters of yore who read the comic strip daily and grew up in a time when the characters were as famous as any in the land.
The main story in the film will appeal to them regardless. Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) is smitten with his new neighbor, the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Angelucci Capaldi), but all of his efforts to impress her end badly. There seems to be an opportunity when our blundering hero manages a perfect score on a standardized test and is to be honored at a school assembly, but once Charlie Brown realizes that the score is a mistake, his moment of triumph turns into an ethical dilemma instead.
It’s a bit startling, and undeniably refreshing, to see a children’s movie that doesn’t involve a villain’s effort to seize a princess’s kingdom or some other high-stakes power struggle but instead is driven by the small anxieties a real child might experience on a daily basis. Charlie Brown is just an ordinary kid trying to find a comfortable place in an ordinary but daunting world. Rather than taking the pint-size moviegoers in the audience out of their realm of experience, the way fantasy-driven fare does, this movie, directed by Steve Martino, meets them on their own turf. (One nice touch that young viewers may or may not appreciate: As with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” almost all of the character voices are provided by actual children, not adults with childlike voices.)
The genetics experiment comes into play with the many side bits in the movie, ones that will mean something to longtime “Peanuts” fans but go by so quickly that first-timers may be puzzled. Why is that dog trying to snatch that kid’s blanket? Why does that girl keep acting strangely around the piano-playing boy? How come one girl is calling another girl “sir”? This is especially true of extended aerial battles that Snoopy has with the Red Baron (the visual high points of the movie’s 3-D incarnation), a sort of movie-within-the-movie that may require a little explanation.
Or maybe not. If all of these things are perfectly clear to today’s kiddies, we will have positive proof of fictional-character DNA transference. The mind boggles. That future children will be born already knowing the Harry Pottermythology isn’t too alarming, but picture those infants also already knowing the more vile scenes from “Game of Thrones.” Ick.
“The Peanuts Movie” is rated G. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.