Yes, it's 3-D computer animation, and yes, it shows us more of the face of Charlie Brown's Little Red-Haired Girl than you ever thought you would see. But the news, for the most part, is good: The Peanuts Movie is much closer in spirit to Charles Schulz's half-century comic-strip masterpiece than, say, new episodes of The Simpsons are to the spirit of Matt Groening.
The story -- concocted by Craig and Bryan Schulz, sons of Charles, and Cornelius Uliano -- is low-key Schulz stuff involving crushes, ice-skating, book reports, a school dance, and all the anxiety such everyday life stirs in our hero.
Lucy rhapsodizes about the nickels she earns for her psychiatric advice, the hero mopes that nobody likes him, and the film has more moments of stillness and sadness than you would ever expect from a studio kids picture.
There's too much WWI dogfighting, but that's the same as it ever was. What's surprising -- even wondrous -- is how often Schulz's precisely crooked line work informs the big-budget gloss. It's there in the tufts of dust kicked up by Pig-Pen and the lumpish globs of snowflakes. But most importantly it's in the faces, in the mouths and eyes and Schulzian worry lines, all sketched in with the raw expressiveness of pen on paper. Congratulations to director Steve Martino and his team: When's the last time a computer-animated feature showcased the power of cartooning? As for the story, the process of adapting Peanuts has been that of softening it. Charlie Brown onscreen always gets a happy ending, and that's no more a betrayal of the strip's honesty here than it was in A Charlie Brown Christmas.