Charlie Brown may be the kid who loses the baseball game, gets his kite caught in a tree and has the football whisked away by Lucy van Pelt before he gets a chance to kick it, but give the boy they call Blockhead credit. He's the star of The Peanuts Movie, a terrific big-screen version that should satisfy Peanuts fans and generate new ones.
The biggest challenge in translating the still-popular comic strip by the late Charles Schulz to the big screen is capturing the spirit of a sweet "loser" in cynical times that pump kids full of messages about revenge and winning.
Not only do Steve Martino's direction and the script by Schulz's son and grandson, Craig and Bryan Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano keep Charlie's vulnerabilities, they double down on those vulnerabilities and lend them meaning. Charlie tells the truth as soon as he realizes that everyone is admiring him for something he didn't do. In an About a Boy-like moment, he gives up his dignity and chance to impress, by putting on a cow suit to help his sister's performance.
The double plot interweaves Charlie's stumbles on his quest to make himself worthy of the Little Red-Haired Girl he adores and his dog Snoopy's fantasy sequences about fighting his nemesis, the Red Baron World War I flying ace.
Blue Sky Studio, which gave us the wordless, acorn-obsessed prehistoric squirrel, Scrat, from the Ice Age franchise, is an inspired fit for Woodstock and Snoopy, who tell us all we need to know about their travails and triumphs in barks and squeaks.
The voices, from Noah Schnapp's Charlie to Alexander Garfin's Linus, echo the tones of the characters from the popular television specials with one celebrity voice, Kristin Chenoweth, doing fetching barks for Snoopy's true love, Fifi.
There aren't any newfangled gadgets. Kids talk on rotary phones, Snoopy (compiled from voice bits done by the late Bill Melendez) types on a manual typewriter and Lucy (Hadley Belle Miller) still charges 5 cents for psychiatric advice. In an effective bridge between past and present, Martino blends Schulz's signature two-dimensional drawings of eyes, brows and curls of hair on 3-D CGI animation.
A wrap-up speech of the kind that Linus did so well in the television specials goes to the Little Red-Haired Girl, whom Schulz had drawn as an enigmatic, just-out-of-reach figure. Her words, voiced sweetly by Francesca Capaldi, are a little on the nose in spelling out the themes.
Still, it's a welcome affirmation that kindness, honesty and bravery matter. It bears hearing in a world that tells kids winning is the only thing and makes them desperate to do that at any cost.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE (A-)
Directed by Steve Martino. G. 93 mins. In wide release.