I didn't know what to expect when I was invited to an early preview of the upcoming Peanuts movie. The movie is still in development and won't be released until November 6th later this year. I arrived nearly late and scarfed down some free hummus like a sweaty goblin before taking my seat in the dimmed theater. The afternoon, to my surprise, was an intimate presentation hosted by director Steve Martino. Animation fans might recognize Martino from his work as director on Horton Hears a Who! and Ice Age 4, so this was very exciting. I don't want to reveal too much about the plot, but I'll give an account of the coolest things I saw.
I admit that I was surprised by Martino's level of passion. I'm a cynical jerk and I kind of assumed that the Peanuts Movie was a cash-grab when I first heard about it. Listening to him talk, you can really tell that Martino cares about the source material, and he completely won me over. It helps that the movie is written by Charles Schulz's son and grandson. Most of the presentation focused on the challenges that went into making 3D models of the classic characters. Martino described a process that he called "comic strip archaeology" where they scoured decades and decades of Peanuts materials. The end goal was to distill years and years of artistic flourishes by Schulz into idealized "perfect" representations of the characters he was illustrating. The style they use in the finished sequences goes beyond the normal character models you see in a 3D children's film. They worked hard to recreate the individual pen strokes that make Peanuts comics feel so familiar. I have to say, Pigpen has never looked cleaner. They tried to reconstruct the Brown household through bits and pieces seen over the years. Eventually Martino just took a scouting trip to Schulz's hometown in Minnesota and found a full neighborhood of houses that look exactly like the ones seen in the strip. The movie is mostly designed to look like a Peanuts strip, but there are also "Red Baron" sequences that take on a much more cinematic tone.
The soundtrack seems to have a lot of returning favorites, as well as some newer songs that surprised me. The beloved melodies by Vince Guaraldi make a big comeback right off the bat. The trailer also featured Baba O'Riley by The Who, better known to some as "Teenage Wasteland." My only problem there was a HUGE missed opportunity with the line "Sally, take my hand." The most shocking one to me was a sequence where things start to go well for Charlie Brown, set to the club banger All I Do is Win by DJ Khaled. I normally hate the trend of hip-hop in kids movies. It's nothing against hip hop, it just feels like faux edginess and a cheap laugh. There's something about combining Charlie Brown with hip hop that I have always loved though, and it works really well here. For another example, I highly recommend checking out the Charlie Brown X-Mas EP by Childish Gambino.
Overall, the movie seems like basically everything you'd want out of a Peanuts movie. It doesn't try to be something Peanuts isn't. It's not Charlie Brown and the Quest for the Holy Grail. It's not Charlie Brown vs. Predator. It's a grounded story that takes the characters you love, knows what you like, and gives you what you want. The gang is all there. If the finished movie is anything like the preview that I saw, I would highly recommend taking your kids when it comes out.