Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 30, 2021)
After the first Peanuts feature film hit screens in 1969, the franchise cranked out three more. 1980’s Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!) offered the final big-screen adventure for the series until 2015’s “reboot” with The Peanuts Movie.
In Voyage, Charlie Brown (voiced by Arrin Skelley) and Linus (Daniel Anderson) get selected to participate in a student exchange program. This sends the pair to France, and animal pals Snoopy and Woodstock accompany them.
As it happens, Peppermint Patty (Patricia Patts) and Marcie (Casey Carlson) – friends who attend a different school – also get to visit Europe as part of this exchange. We follow their adventures, with an emphasis on the intrigue caused by a mysterious letter Charlie Brown gets from a French girl.
As I mentioned when I reviewed 1977’s Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, I saw all of the first three Peanuts films in my youth. I suspect I only watched 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown on TV, as I was only two when it hit screens, though it’s possible I attended a showing as part of a later revival.
In any case, I was 13 when Voyage made it to theaters – not truly too old for it, but most adolescents stay away from “G”-rated “kiddie fare”. Although I continued to enjoy the Peanuts comic strips, I passed on Voyage.
Obviously my perspective on the film as 54-year-old in 2021 differs from how I would’ve viewed Voyage as a 13-year-old. Would I have enjoyed it more as a kid than as a middle-aged dude?
Probably. While this never became a bad movie, Voyage lacked much wit or cleverness.
Honestly, maybe Peanuts just doesn’t translate well to feature film length. Boy Named Charlie Brown worked but it also essentially lacked a plot, as it largely gave us a mix of strips adapted for the screen.
1972’s Snoopy Come Home attempted a broader narrative and managed to pull it off fairly well. Like Boy, Race essentially offered a mix of mini-segments, though these came joined by the “summer camp” theme.
Voyage follows the same construction as Race. This means that we find short comedic vignettes linked by the exchange student motif.
These don’t tend to seem especially inspired. Occasional sequences offer moderate amusement, but a lot of the segments come across as semi-trite and not terribly inventive.
In an odd twist, Voyage violates the Peanuts universe’s ban on adults. We both hear and see grown-ups here, a choice that becomes off-putting given our decades of conditioning to expect adventures sans adults as anything other than vague off-screen participants.
Perhaps if Voyage stayed with “no grown-ups allowed” motif, the movie would more easily avoid the bizarre nature of the trip. Not only do a bunch of little kids travel to Europe completely without supervision, but also they get to rent a car – one where a dog gets approval to drive!
Look, I get that we accept some level of fantasy in the Peanuts world, a factor that intensified as the years passed and the series emphasized wacky adventures with Snoopy. Once Charles Schulz firmly anthropomorphized Snoopy, the series left behind its more reality-based orientation.
Probably not as a coincidence, Peanuts became less interesting over the years. While amazing in the 1950s and 1960s, the decline started in the 1970s, and again, this reliance on Snoopy’s nutty antics became part of that. Though the strip still offered plenty of good material in the 1970s and occasionally beyond, the span of consistent greatness departed.
This makes Voyage a pretty clear representative of the 1970s and later decline. It still musters some charm, though again, the story seems unable to find much to do to adequately fill its brief running time.
These factors leave Voyage as a fairly forgettable Peanuts tale. It could be worse, but it fails to really exploit the factors that made the comic strips so great.