389. The Problem with The Peanuts Movie

Hollywood is making a Peanuts movie. The film, appropriately titled The Peanuts Movie, will feature the misadventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the lovable gang from the comic strip by Charles Schultz.

Much to my surprise, the movie looks pretty good. Take a look at the trailer.

When The Peanuts Movie was announced, I cynically assumed it would be a cheap attempt to cash in on America’s nostalgia for its favorite comic strip. The trailers, however, have left me cautiously optimistic. The art is faithful to Schultz’s comics, the voices hearken back to the animated Peanuts specials, and everything (except the soundtrack) seems true to the spirit of Peanuts.

Well… almost everything does.

The Peanuts Movie posterIn at least one way, The Peanuts Movie will probably stray from the spirit of the comic strip.

The movie will have a happy ending.

In its trailers, The Peanuts Movie hints at a triumphant ending for its hero, Charlie Brown. His story will probably be one we’ve seen a dozen times before in other movies, from Wreck-It Ralph to How to Train Your Dragon. It’s the tale of an underdog conquering his insecurities and doing something great, earning respect and learning self-respect along the way.

It’s a familiar story. We’ve all seen it, and most of us love it. It will probably be the story of The Peanuts Movie. We all want Charlie Brown to succeed. We want him to win. I understand why the film seems to be taking this approach to the comic strip. It’s marketable. People will pay to see it, and they will enjoy it, and that’s perfectly fine. I like happy stories as much as anyone.

But that’s not what Peanuts is about.

Peanuts is not a happy comic strip. It has a reputation for innocence and optimism, thanks to cheerful TV specials and licensed greeting cards from Hallmark, but the comic itself can be pretty bleak.

Charlie Brown is often lonely, depressed, and insecure, to the absolute indifference of those around him:

Depressed Charlie Brown

Flipping heck, even the very first Peanuts strip shows the cruel duplicity of of which children are capable:

Good old Charlie Brown

There are cheerful Peanuts strips, sure, but for every heartwarming strip about hugs or warm puppies, there are several about rejection or loneliness.

Charlie Brown is the hero of this melancholy comic strip, and he never really gets a happy ending. He never gets a Valentine. He never catches the eye of the pretty red-haired girl. He never kicks that football, and even on the rare occasions his baseball team wins, he doesn’t:

Charlie Brown's team wins

He isn’t alone. In some ways, Peanuts is a comic strip about failure. Lucy never grows out of her childishness. Snoopy doesn’t find a publisher for any of his manuscripts. In the face of a broken world, Linus clings helplessly to his security blanket.

Charlie Brown isn’t alone in his struggles, but what makes him stand out is how he responds to them. He never gets the happy ending The Peanuts Movie will probably give him, and that’s part of what makes him a hero. The other part, the really important part, is that he keeps trying.

Every February, Charlie Brown waits by the mailbox for a Valentine. He never gives up on his crush, never stops trying to kick that football, and leads his baseball team with indomitable enthusiasm. Charlie Brown, the punching bag of the universe, keeps dreaming, keeps hoping, keeps persevering. We don’t love him because he kicks that football. We love him because he keeps kicking.

However its movie turns out, Peanuts isn’t a predictable tale of finding happiness. It’s a story of persevering in an unhappy world. It’s a story of hope.

That’s what Peanuts is about, Charlie Brown.

2 thoughts on “389. The Problem with The Peanuts Movie

  1. I suppose part of the charm IS that ol’ Chuck never wins the day, but I must admit I always wanted him to get a little victory with the red-headed girl. Hmm… Another red-haired girl as the object of desire. See, I’m not alone. Society has made me this way.

    I do agree, though, with the concern the ending will be the saccharine kind suited to today’s audiences. I really enjoy happy endings, but some are so darn FORCED these days. It’s good when a movie can balance the good and the bad, just like we much do in life.

    • I had a fierce crush on a redhead when I was younger, but I refuse to blame society for my youthful affections.

      …Nah, I’ll blame genetics. DARN YOU GREGOR MENDEL!

      I like a happy movie as much as anyone, but bland happiness, neither tempered nor challenged by unhappiness, is cheap.

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