How ‘The Peanuts Movie’ Creators Put Charles Schulz’s Vision First

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Peanuts Movie’ review: More than a small-screen special writ large.

DETROIT (WWJ) – It was back in 1950, when Charlie Brown was introduced to the public for the very first time. In this week’s new releases, the latest film in the 007 franchise is a bit of a bore, and the classic “Peanuts” comic is brought to the big screen in “The Peanuts Movie,” a film that should be fitting for viewers of all ages. ★½ “Spectre” (PG-13) “This is a canon that has always danced a fine line between sophistication and playfulness, a balance that ‘Spectre’ strikes by affecting a strangely dour, self-serious air.

Noah Schnapp, the 11-year-old actor, son of former Montrealers Karine and Mitchell Schnapp, was selected to provide the pipes for the ever-flappable Charlie Brown in The Peanuts Movie after an extensive hunt.“Miss You Already” ★★ (PG-13; 1:42) • This “Beaches” for the 21st century follows lifelong best friends Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette), during Milly’s battle with cancer.Yes, after a long time away from theaters, the round-headed kid with the inferiority complex and the dog with the rich fantasy life is finally back, and full of just as much angst as ever.Donna Johnson Wold’s hair, which was once, in her own words, “violently red,” has long since faded to the white you’d expect of an 86-year-old grandmother.

Whether it’s Star Wars fans resenting Lucasfilm’s move to digital effects, Trekkers who hate lens flare, or Jem and the Holograms lovers who—actually, never mind. It turns out that wasn’t accidental. “In preparing for my recording audition, my mom told me to YouTube the old Peanuts Thanksgiving and Christmas specials to hear how Charlie Brown speaks,” the articulate Schnapp says in a phone interview from his family’s New York City base. “So I listened to as much as I could find online to get the voice right. The filmmakers take advantage of their cinematic scope with a bigger story, more sophisticated animation and effective use of 3-D that gives new depth to the Peanuts world.

It’s the perfect first feature film for a preschooler.” – Sandie Angulo Chen ★★ “Miss You Already” (PG-13) “‘When “Miss You Already’ works, it’s because of the cast. (Toni) Collette, who shaved her head for the part, commits so deeply to the role of Milly that it’s hard to hate the contrivance of the plot. Schulz’s style of storytelling. (Jody Mitori) ”Spectre” ★★★ (PG-13; 2:28) • British spy 007 (Daniel Craig) returns, determined to save the world from yet another egotistical madman (Christoph Waltz).

For her part, (Drew) Barrymore shines like a bright beacon through the dark night of the soul that falls — if only temporarily — over the friendship of Milly and Jess.” – Michael O’Sullivan ★ “Love” (Unrated) “… good camerawork only goes so far. ‘Love’ drags on and on, alternating between arguments and intimacy, breakups and makeups. This disappointing follow-up to “Skyfall” is overlong and often mind-bogglingly illogical, but Craig is still fun to watch and the action is thrilling. (Calvin Wilson) “Suffragette” • ★★★½ (PG-13; 1:46) • Carey Mulligan is luminous as a working-class woman who fights for the right to vote in London in 1912-13. Charles Schulz drew the Peanuts strip for over 50 years, but what helped ingrain the characters in mainstream culture was fierce merchandising and expansion into other mediums. The movie never passes the authenticity test; if this is what sex feels like, we’ll all soon be extinct.” – Stephanie Merry ★★★ “Flowers” (Unrated) “Nothing terribly much happens in ‘Flowers’ but the passage of time. Abi Morgan’s writing is occasionally pedestrian, but the sweep of the story, the performances and director Sarah Gavron’s vision make up for it. (Sarah Bryan Miller)

She still has a few reminders of him and that time: a scrawled-upon 1950 desk diary, a music box, and a large collection of decades’ worth of Peanuts comic strips, cut out from the pages of The Minneapolis Star Tribune, many of which revolve around a pretty redhead. Relying on 50 years of character development, the Peanuts gang stays true to their original selves — there’s no new edge or post-modern snark in the mix.

Schulz wrote four theatrical Peanuts animated films during his lifetime (beginning with 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown); there have been 45 television specials, the most recent of which debuted in 2011. Over the course of five years, Beñat’s mother (Itziar Aizpuru) sinks into dementia; Ane (Nagore Aranburu) comes to her senses; and Beñat is slowly forgotten. And he spent a portion of last spring in Park City, Utah, where he took part in the Sundance Directors Lab and played the lead in director Brent Green’s Untitled Loveless Fable.

But it does function as a kind of carry-on from those weird and beloved ’60s television specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas, which turns 50 this year, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Although it’s always a treat to hear snatches of Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy music, and see Violet and Shermie bust some dance moves, the puffy computer graphics are occasionally distracting (particularly Snoopy, who’s given a wide variety of extreme expressions). Then there’s the fact that the first animated appearance of Peanuts characters was in a series of Ford advertisements, and Snoopy and the gang have been in MetLife insurance ads since 1985, along with countless other spokesperson/mascot gigs. They include a dogged determination to maintain the timeless innocence of the comic and its animated spin-offs, even if the results are presented in computer-generated 3D. If your beef is with the idea that the movie uses non-traditional animation, we’ve got some bad news for you: Peanuts characters got the 3D treatment years ago, thanks to videogames.

Schnapp plays the son of Tom Hanks’s negotiator character in Bridge of Spies, and is most convincing as a kid who’s concerned about a Soviet nuclear retaliation at the height of the Cold War. Live-action isn’t out of the question either: Snoopy’s brother Spike got thrust into the corporeal world in the abysmal 1988 special It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown.. He dutifully learns the ludicrous duck-and-cover technique should a missile strike while he’s at school, and keeps his bathtub full of water should it strike while he’s at home. “I have to be honest and admit that before I started working on that project, I actually didn’t know much about that period or who they (Hanks and Spielberg), were,” Schnapp says. “But you have to understand that I was only nine at the time. “However, when we started pre-production, I watched most of their movies. And yet, every now and then, it was a secret romantic correspondence, imbued with a hidden meaning only truly understood by its creator and one other person.

Peanuts may center on the hapless Charlie Brown and his innocent childhood, but the brand itself has never been as modestly art-first in the same way as, say, Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. Then I went: ‘Wow!’ I hadn’t realized how big and how important they were.” “He’s just such a selfless, generous actor,” Schnapp marvels. “In most of his movies, he’s usually playing the hero and good guy, which is what he really is. True, the new young voice actors — Noah Schnapp as Charlie Brown, Hadley Belle Miller as Lucy, and Alexander Garfin as Linus – are all very good, and very much in keeping with previous performances. He watches longingly as the other children enjoy themselves, laments his aloneness and unpopularity, and despairs over the lunch that he finds packed for him: a peanut-butter sandwich and a banana.

For example, who isn’t familiar with Charlie Brown’s angst trying to drum up the courage to talk to “the little red-haired girl?” Or Snoopy’s adventures going up against his nemesis, The Red Baron? The Schulz estate is still so profitable that it regularly ranks near the top in Forbes’ list of highest-earning dead celebrities. (Its revenue was estimated between $30-$40M in 2005 and 2015.) When Iconix Brand Group acquired the Peanuts brand alongside Schulz’s heirs in 2010, the Wall Street Journal cited annual retail sales in excess of $2 billion. And, for the first time, he glimpses someone new in the schoolyard. “I’d give anything in the world if that little girl with the red hair would come over, and sit with me,” he says, to no one in particular. But if you’re a veteran fan of “Peanuts,” you’ll find yourself reminded of what happened to the strip over time: A bittersweet look at childhood started getting taken over by Snoopy. CGI studios like Pixar, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky—which made its bones with the Ice Age franchise—are the companies running the category, and have been for 20 years now.

On the one hand we have Snoopy, his imagination given even freer rein than usual thanks to modern filmmaking techniques, battling the Red Baron in the skies above First World War France. Like the yanked-away football and the kite-eating tree, the unattainable Little Red-Haired Girl, who shows little sign of knowing Charlie Brown exists, became a recurring motif of the character’s misery. These sequences are distinguished by more realistic background animation — snowy mountains and grassy landscapes that look more like the world outside the movie theater. Ultimately, Peanuts isn’t concerned with a nostalgic ideal, no matter how many times Schulz’s son talks about working with Blue Sky to make sure the rain looks just like his father drew it.

And frankly the film could use more of Linus, and Schroeder, and “fussbudgets” and loneliness and all those things that first made the strip the essential it was during the ’50s and ’60s, before Schulz started pulling back. (Whenever Charlie Brown has a memory or a daydream, things turn into old black-and-white drawings, and your heart aches a little.) But at least the movie doesn’t try to reboot things by giving the kids laptops and smartphones and trendy slang. (Apparently, “blockhead” and “Good Grief” are still in constant usage.) It means no harm, and makes no enemies. Written by Charles Schulz’ son Craig Schulz, his son Bryan Schulz and the younger Schulz’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano, who also serve as the film’s producers.

I mentioned the two holiday specials that are reliably re-aired each October and December, but the Peanuts’ screen pantheon comprises more than 50 films, TV specials and straight-to-video productions. (To say nothing of those Met Life ads.) There was 1972’s Snoopy Come Home – the first film to make me cry – and other titles that seem to have been generated to span the genres: You’re Not Elected Charlie Brown, What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!; She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown; Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown; and 1984’s Flashdance-inspired It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. But with an estate that’s historically shown no aversion to expanding, you can rest assured this won’t be the last update for the Peanuts characters. It’s not lost on us that Charles Schulz left her to our imagination.” The character has, in fact, had on-screen roles in the past, including two of the classic Peanuts television specials concocted by animation director Bill Melendez, It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown (1977) and Happy New Year, Charlie Brown (1986).

The design of the character in those specials, however, suggests Melendez’s looser hand rather than that of Schulz, who had little involvement in the specials and didn’t regard them canon. They reproduced the profile and proportions precisely, put her in a striking electric-cyan dress, and conjured up what Martino deems a “special” hue of red hair: a supermarket-tomato red that’s distinct from that of the other Peanuts redheads Peppermint Patty and Frieda. He’s also curious about Schulz’s creative decision to finally realize her on the page, just the once. “It would be fascinating to know the internal dialogue that he had,” Martino says. “That was probably a big day for him and an important one in the life of the strip.” In 1950, Charles Schulz—or “Sparky,” as friends knew him—worked as an instructor at Art Instruction, Inc. in Minneapolis, a school that offered young people classes in cartooning and illustration by correspondence.

As well as earning a generous $32 a week reviewing students’ drawings as a full-time instructor, he was close to realizing his long-held dream of having a daily comic strip; he’d already found some success with a weekly one-panel cartoon called Li’l Folks in his hometown paper, the St. For their first date, he took her to an ice-skating show—the skating rink was a passion his whole life—after which he gifted her a piano-shaped music box that played Émile Waldteufel’s “Les Patineurs” (“The Ice Skaters”). One regular dinner destination was the Oak Grille, on the 12th floor of Dayton’s department store—still there, in Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, apparently looking and feeling as romantic as it did in 1950: dim lighting, dark paneling, large and luxuriant fireplace. “When it came time for a tip,” Donna said in an interview with the Schulz Museum archivists recently, “he would write on the placemat, ‘Early to bed, early to rise,’ and that was his ‘tip.’” Schulz had once suffered from crippling shyness around girls.

One year, he lost the nerve to distribute Valentine’s Day cards to his classmates, instead bringing them back at the end of the day to present to his mother. Croix River, and made pancakes in a skillet over an open fire with batter Donna had secretly brought along in a jar. “I knew that his favorite thing to eat was pancakes at that time,” Donna says. “So my mother mixed up a pancake batter and put [it] in a fruit jar. Actually, the notion had crossed Donna’s mind too. “I asked him to elope with me once,” she says. “He said he couldn’t do that to my mother.” Years later, Schulz said he came to regret that gentlemanliness and that hearing the music from My Foolish Heart—whose title tune contains the lyric, “For this time it isn’t fascination, or a dream that will fade and fall apart”—would break his own.

For his part, Schulz had expressed his wish to marry Donna as early as their third date. “I wish I had a diamond ring in my pocket to give you now,” Donna remembers him saying. Her response always was, “I really don’t want to get married right now.” For Donna, the competing amorous attentions of Sparky and Al presented a genuine dilemma.

Last night I kept thinking of you all the time.” Schulz returned to Minneapolis on the 11th in high spirits, having signed a five-year contract for the strip that would become Peanuts. Instead, he presented her with another gift—a statue of a curled-up white cat, which he told her to keep in her drawer at work until she had finally made up her mind to marry him, at which point she should place it on his desk when he wasn’t looking.

Today, both Donna and Al conclude that, while Sparky may have been the more romantic option, Al was the natural fit. “It just seemed like we were more compatible,” Donna says. But Donna has never forgotten the night she broke the news to Sparky, giving her clearest recount of events back in Good Grief, the 1989 Schulz biography: “I was home sewing. He came back about thirty minutes later and said ‘I thought maybe you changed your mind.’ It was close!” Speaking about that night 65 years later, Donna remembers the heartbreak, and her sympathy for Schulz, all too vividly. “It was terrible.

Donna read Peanuts every day—she still does—and guessed that the unnamed redhead was inspired by her “right off the bat.” She also started picking up on what appeared to be meaningful references and tiny in-jokes. David Michaelis’s 2007 Schulz biography mentions several girls that the young Schulz, for example, had only been able to admire intensely from afar.

During their brief reunions, Schulz said, it felt like no time had passed and nothing had changed. “I was happy to see him and he was happy to see me, too,” Donna says. Donna and Schulz’s continued friendship never interfered with her marriage to Al—which, along with Peanuts, recently saw its 65th anniversary—or either of Schulz’s marriages. A tremor crept into Schulz’s famously elegant pen line during the strip’s final years, but he only retired Peanuts in late 1999 after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in his sleep on February 12, 2000, a few days after his last phone conversation with Donna; the last original Peanuts strip ran the following day. Wold has turned down many offers from Peanuts collectors, preferring to hold on to her many personal mementos of Sparky, which are displayed on the walls or else stored in a large hope chest in the Wolds’ two-bedroom apartment.

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