Lucy Van Pelt steals center stage from Charlie Brown and Snoopy in the beautifully animated, emotionally intense new Peanuts special For Auld Lang Syne, new this week to Apple TV. Yes, you read that right. Charlie Brown’s name is not in the title, a slight that’s caused indignation among some fans, including this one. The choice is doubly baffling since this special bears producing credits from Charles M. Schulz’s son, Craig, along with his grandson Bryan. They should know better than anyone: it’s always Charlie Brown’s show, even when he’s not the featured character.
Ah, but Lucy says this review should be about her and only her, and of course, she’s right. She’s always right, that Lucy. As the special opens, she’s happier and more excited than we’ve ever seen her. It’s December and Lucy is humming Christmas carols as she decorates the Van Pelt house. Everything has to be just right. Grandma is coming. Lucy adores her grandmother but her brother Linus is more nervous than excited. Grandma always tries to take away his blanket.
Over at Charlie Brown’s house, he’s trying to watch Citizen Kane, but the doorbell keeps ringing. Snoopy’s sister and four brothers are arriving for Christmas with their musical instruments in tow, except for Spike, who’s brought his camera and favorite desert cactus. Spike’s quest to take a new family photo will be the special’s best running gag, and like all great Peanuts bits, will prove to be both funny and plaintive.
And then, Grandma calls. She’s not coming. Stunned, Lucy hangs up the phone, her face frozen in hurt and dismay. In an exquisitely painful montage, writer-director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) holds tight to Lucy’s face. Christmas comes and goes, and while Lucy’s clothes change, her expression does not. She is sad and confused (and angry, too), and finally, lying in her bed late at night, she wonders if Grandma stayed away because of her. “Am I not lovable?”
With those four words, Kaytis and co-writers Alex Galatis and Scott Montgomery transform Lucy from a character of nostalgia into a girl as self-reflective and searching as any young person watching the special might be. Her crisis of self is sure to resonate, and that’s a triumph not only for Kaytis and company but for the late Charles Schulz, who gave his characters the gifts of grace and intelligence but also melancholy and doubt.
In a bid to regain her more confident self, Lucy decides to throw a New Year’s Eve party at an old theater, which she rents, need it be said, with nickels. She writes up strict party rules and assigns her friends very specific party tasks. Charlie Brown, who’s frantic to finish the year with one accomplishment to his credit, is thrilled to be put in charge of decorations and the all-important midnight balloon drop.
Snoopy’s band is set to perform and Peppermint Patty and Marcie, who are building an epic igloo fort for a pending snowball war, agree to carve an ice sculpture of the party’s “very lovable host.” While Lucy’s plan for an evening of “elegant perfection” is not destined to go as planned, Linus and Charlie Brown are sure to have her back.
The igloo fort and Citizen Kane jokes are callbacks to Schulz but the filmmakers have added jokes and setpieces that are sure to generate delight in little ones and please grownups with an eye for detail. For Auld Lang Syne continues a visual motif begun with the theatrical feature, The Peanuts Movie (2015). Like that wonderful (underappreciated) film, the new special is bursting with bold, vibrant colors, the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined when we were kids stretched out in front of the television watching the classic specials on network TV for the umpteenth time.
No one would trade those shows for the world, but it is grand to see how deeply, richly blue Lucy’s trademark dress is, and oh, look, she has a matching headband. Did she always? And good grief, look at Charlie Brown. He’s totally rockin’ that pink tuxedo. When this guy gets to high school, watch out.
Snoopy Presents: For Auld Lang Syne is on AppleTV+ now.