This one goes out to all of my fellow Gen Xers who grew up at the height of the popularity of "Peanuts." The holiday specials remain the most popular and influential of the graphically blandished media they starred in, but there were also several theatrical films, the first four directed by the great Bill Melendez. It's been ages since I've seen the older ones, but I want to get some thoughts on them down before they recede too far back in my memory. So here we go. Ranked from the best to worst below, let's take a look at "Peanuts" on film.
Snoopy, Come Home (1972) - When I was a small child, this was the saddest movie ever. The prospect of Charlie Brown and Snoopy parting ways was devastating, far higher stakes than Charlie Brown's usual depressive spells and schoolyard troubles. This wasn't an installment I saw very often as a kid, but every moment of it is burned into my memory because I was so invested in the story. I still remember little details like Thurl Ravenscroft's stern "No Dogs Allowed" and many lyrics to the songs, written by the Sherman Brothers. To this day, the thought of Snoopy's farewell party instantly makes me want to start bawling like the six-year-old I was when I first saw this.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) - I love so much about the film, from the stylized pop art visuals to the hummable songs to the happy simplicity of the totally untouched character designs. Charlie Brown didn't need to be altered for the big screen, but his world did get a little bigger and more interesting. What I love the most about the film, though, was the letdown ending. It's strange, but I really appreciate that the film tackled the subject of failure head on, and made it so relatable. What pushes the movie into second place, however, is that endless skating sequence with Snoopy at Rockefeller Center. It always stopped the movie dead and would bore me to death.
The Peanuts Movie (2015) - I like the approach that the film took, which is a sort of "Greatest Hits" compilation of a lot of different, familiar bits of "Peanuts" presented in the context of a new story. And it's a lot of fun seeing how the Blue Sky Studios artists managed to preserve so much of the 2D charms of the comics in a 3D universe, using a combination of hand drawn and CGI animation. There are a lot of neat little details and callbacks for fans to spot, and I just love that Snoopy is still voiced by Bill Melendez via archival recordings. My biggest quibble with the film, though, is that the tone, especially the ending, is much too happy for "Peanuts." There's definitely more nostalgia here than real heart and heartache.
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980) - This is a weird, weird feature and I admit that the only reason it's not in last place is because it so heavily features Marcie, who has always been the "Peanuts" character I identify with the most. This was also the one I saw the most often as a kid because we had it on video. There are parts of the story that are uncharacteristically dark and scary for "Peanuts," with Charlie Brown and Linus bunking in a possibly haunted chateau, an intimidating adult villain, and a pretty intense sequence with a fire. However, I will love the movie forever for the scene of Marcie shouting down French drivers from the roof of the rented Citroen.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) - The "Peanuts" movie that felt the least like the "Peanuts" strip, as it concocted a trio of stereotypical bullies to be the antagonists and even had an evil orange cat to bother Snoopy and Woodstock. It also suffers a bit from being awfully similar to the earlier "You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown" TV special, which I thought had a much better ending. Still, the big race helps to tie all the little gags together nicely, and I like that Charlie Brown gets to grow a bit as a person by developing his leadership skills.