The Peanuts Movie (2015)

The Peanuts Movie somewhat breaks our litmus test for Christmas movies, in that it objectively passes despite the fact it's pretty clearly not a holiday film in any meaningful sense of the phrase.

For those of you who don't want to read through my treatise on the subject, there are a handful of binary questions we can ask, and any movie receiving a "yes" on one or more those questions is considered, for the purposes of this blog, a Christmas movie. The most basic of those questions is whether or not more than 50% of a movie is clearly set at or around the holidays, and The Peanuts Movie passes. In fact, the vast majority of the film - everything except the ending - is adjacent to Christmas.

But the reason for this is, well, pretty trivial. As far as I can tell, The Peanuts Movie's setting is just an homage to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Beyond that, the holidays really don't come up.

I've seen a few other movies where Christmas seemed to be more a reference than a thematic or tonal element, but those generally tried to incorporate some deeper connection to the holidays. This is really content to leave it in the background.

And that's just unique and interesting enough for me to embrace the fact this is here on a technicality and discuss this film.

Honestly, I'm inclined to do so, anyway, because this really doesn't get the love it deserves. Sure, critics liked it well enough (87% on Rotten Tomatoes), and I don't think you can call $246 million worldwide an abject failure, but between its $99 million budget and marketing costs, I'm skeptical it quite broke even in its theatrical run. Since then, I feel as though audiences have more or less forgotten about it entirely.

And that's a shame, because if any CG movie deserves to be revisited after the success of Into the Spider-Verse, it's this one. In a lot of ways, this was driven by a similar philosophy. While Spider-Verse managed to translate comic books into a three-dimensional environment without sacrificing style, The Peanuts Movie did the same for comic strips.

It didn't push the envelope as far, and it wasn't as groundbreaking, but the movie's commitment to honoring its source material is no less faithful. From the decision to limit perspectives to angles from the comic to the kinds of jokes used, The Peanuts Movie is a wonderful recreation of Shulz's world.

This is a sweet, emotionally satisfying exploration into the character and world of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The story is fairly simple, but that's for the best: anything else would have detracted from the heart and comedy.

That plot, incidentally, revolves around the arrival of a new kid in school, a red-haired girl who Charlie Brown falls for immediately. His hopes of making a good impression seem destined to fail due to his bad luck and lack of confidence. Every time it seems as though he might have a chance to break through, something goes wrong, usually forcing him to make a tough choice between hurting someone else or giving up his moment. And, because he's a good person, he always does what's right and sabotages himself.

Or so he assumes. Turns out, the red-haired girl is perceptive enough to notice how selfless he is, and they become friends. Not a couple: friends. I honestly can't put into words how much I love this. There's no generic, out-of-place kiss or profession of love - just a simple, believable emotional connection.

This wouldn't be a Peanuts movie without a Snoopy B-plot, and this delivers. There's a series of sequences built around his legendary battle against the Red Baron that manages to incorporate CG aerial battles without betraying the source material. These scenes are hilarious standouts in a movie that's already wonderful.

One of these sequences actually makes some use of the movie's Christmas setting by cutting back and forth between Snoopy's fantasy WWI adventures and his real-world antics. Here, holiday decorations and activities are played for laughs, but it's as close as this movie gets to having them be relevant.

While this isn't much of a Christmas movie, it's one hell of a great animated film. I don't see any reason to recommend it for holiday viewing, but I will recommend it highly in general.