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The Peanuts Movie is surprisingly good, but it gets one big thing wrong

Which two characters shouldn't be the same age?

Lucy and Linus shouldn't be in the same class. They just shouldn't.
Lucy and Linus shouldn't be in the same class. They just shouldn't.
20th Century Fox
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The Peanuts Movie is a surprisingly engrossing watch. It's beautiful to look at, rather faithful to the spirit of the comic strip, and a much better movie than you'd expect after hearing the words "computer-animated Peanuts movie."

But it also gets one thing horribly, horribly wrong.

This is not Peanuts canon!

Much of the film takes place in a classroom setting, as Charlie Brown tries to work up the nerve to show the Little Red-Haired Girl (who has just moved to town) that he's a cool, happening dude. It's not a bad storyline to unify the film's plot, which would otherwise feel too episodic since it's based on many of Charles Schulz's comic strips.

But by setting The Peanuts Movie at the kids' school, the filmmakers at Blue Sky Studios were forced to cheat: They put all of the students in the same class, when they're clearly not.

Well, I shouldn't say "all." Sally Brown, who can interact with her big brother at home, gets to remain younger than everybody else, and even attends a different school. And Snoopy and Woodstock, of course, don't attend school at all. But every other major character is in the same classroom for the many scenes set there.

That's inaccurate in two major ways.

  1. Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin are from another neighborhood and don't go to school with Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy, etc. Schulz originally added those characters to give him something to "cut to," essentially, and to give the main kids an opponent in baseball and other sports. It's why Patty is always calling "Chuck" on the phone and why they rarely interact directly in the comic strip.
  2. Lucy is Linus's big sister (and both are older siblings to Rerun, who doesn't play a major role in the film). Though Charlie Brown and Lucy are roughly the same age, he and Linus are best friends. (Age in the Peanuts universe is a bit wonky and elastic, particularly in the TV specials, but Schulz usually kept to these truisms.) Thus, Charlie Brown isn't just some kid she hates. He's best friends with her younger brother, even though he's her age. That puts both her cruelty and her advice giving in perspective.

The changes are understandable, though

In a 90-minute movie, establishing that Peppermint Patty and her crew live in a different neighborhood probably would have been difficult. Thus, it's just easier to have them attend school with everybody else, and for dedicated fans, it's simple enough to imagine that at some point between the 1960s (when the characters were introduced) and right now, the two neighborhoods' schools were consolidated into one. (We'll assume the film takes place in 2015, though there's no evidence of modern technology.)

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football.
Why does Lucy pull the football away? She is a capricious trickster god.
20th Century Fox

But making Lucy the same age as Linus, while also understandable, is somewhat ruinous to both characters. The nature of Lucy's relationship with the rest of the kids hinges on extending the unearned authority of being a big sister to everybody else in her life. That she continues to fill that role when she's effectively Linus's direct peer subtly unmoors her.

Plus, it essentially cuts her out of having any scenes with Linus, since their entire relationship is based on the tensions between an older sister and her younger brother. Even if the new Peanuts reimagined them as twins, it would sacrifice much of their sibling rivalry.

The effect is even more deleterious to Linus, who's often off in his own little world in the comic strip and gains a certain ironic power from being among the younger kids but also being the smartest one around. Now that he's just another one of the kids in the main classroom, he loses both of those qualities. That means he appears in the film very little, for such a major character.

Of all of the major Peanuts figures, Lucy and Linus struggle the most in this film, which is too bad. The two have one of the most interesting, complex relationships in Schulz's comic strip, and it's fun to see how they interact with each other and how each of them interacts with Charlie Brown.

Too much of The Peanuts Movie coasts off viewers' recognition of the characters from their 65 years of prominence in American pop culture. It seems safe to bet this will be effective with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, who remain major figures, but it's likely that some of the others will seem a bit lost. Blurring some of Schulz's more sharply defined relationships only hurts that even more.

Here's one thing that's not a major break from the past

True, the Little Red-Haired Girl didn't appear physically in the comic strip, but that's easier to manage in a format that requires only four panels a day. In a cinematic format, it's trickier to tell a story about her in which she never appears, something that Schulz and his TV collaborators quickly learned when producing TV specials about her.

Schulz considered these TV appearances noncanonical, but didn't quash them, perhaps because he realized how hard it is to tell a story onscreen where a major character is never seen (though the TV specials tried that too).

The TV specials even gave the Little Red-Haired girl a name: Heather. That's something the movie doesn't do, because naming her might be even more sacrilegious than seeing her.

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