There are some pieces of pop culture that have stood the test of time. Whether these icons are known for their influence on future works or just their pure entertainment value, no one can deny their impact on society. Music legends like Frank Sinatra, Carole King and Michael Jackson have been loved for generations and will be for the new generations to come. Films such as Psycho, Singing’ In The Rain and Back to the Future have cemented themselves in cinema history as classics in some way, shape, or form. Just mentioning a name like Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse to anyone young or old will spark a familiar tone around the world. Much like that with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the entire Peanuts gang.
Charles M. Schulz's beloved work has become a worldwide phenomenon since it's first comic strip in 1950. In its 50 year run, there have been almost 18,000 comic strips, each written and illustrated by Schulz himself until his death in 2000. But in 2015, The Peanuts Gang has been given a breath of new life in the form of The Peanuts Movie. Director Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who! and Ice Age: Continental Drift) and writers Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano did an incredible job at creating a movie that infuses nostalgic moments with forward-looking ideas. Here are just a few ways The Peanuts Movie combines the old school cartoon with the new-aged animation movement.
"Finding the Pen Line" and Adapting from Source Material
Despite being animated with 3D models (like most animated movies nowadays) The Peanuts Movie still had a style that felt like the vintage comic strips. In fact, director Steve Martino was very adamant about staying true to the “Schulz” style of illustration that made its way into the movie.
I wanted to find the pen line in everything we do. There is a beauty in the way that he drew. And even though we would be using computer animation, I wanted to feel that in the work. - Steve Martino
If you look closely at any scene, you can see exactly what he means by "finding the pen line." The animators figured out a way to make their designs perfectly asymmetrical: slightly askew to give off the illusion of being hand drawn but not so much as to warp the shape or ruin the end results. A lot of emphasis was put on keeping a familiar look with every minute detail. Even the tasks of getting falling water and Pig Pen's dust cloud (as shown above) to have that Schulz pen line were challenges the animators had to overcome, let alone other aspects such as rapid movements, character details and much, much more!
Not only did creators use past works to drive the direction of the animation, they also used the holiday specials, particularly A Charlie Brown Christmas, to influence the story telling.
I always loved the feeling at the end of the Christmas special. To me, the Christmas special is just a brilliant piece of writing in terms of character arc. Lucy representing the antithesis of the film and we used the same idea in our film in saying “Charlie Brown you need to be a winner.” And he goes on this quest to be a winner only to learn later that he is one. But I also loved the end of the special. When they all say “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” To me they are saying “We love you, Charlie Brown!” “We accept you!” and that was a very uplifting feeling and I wanted the end of our film to have that uplifting feeling for Charlie Brown. - Steve Martino
Terrific Voice Casting
Speaking of drawing inspiration from the holiday specials, it was those specials that guided their decisions in casting which voice actors would become Peanuts.
For me, when I was growing up, Charlie Brown's voice was from the Christmas Special and Halloween Special. There were many, many other specials, and kids grew up, and they would cast those with new voices but they were never right for me. So the casting of the film was really critical and one of the things I was most nervous about... But that was the mandate for me. I wanted to hear that timber, that voice that I remembered growing up. - Steve Martino
The casting choices Martino and casting director Christian Kaplan were absolutely spot on. From Charlie Brown to Lucy, Franklin and Peppermint Patty, every single young actor fit their role to the letter. Although most of the Peanut voices were newly casted, the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock might sound a bit more familiar to the more educated ears. Martino and Randy Thom (Supervising Sound Editor and Supervising Sound Mixer) used the old recordings of Bill Melendez (the original voice actor for Woodstock and Snoopy) for The Peanuts Movie.
[Bill] would record himself doing just hums and purrs and whistles and modulate his voice up and down, and then he would later alter the pitch higher so that it was a funny little creature. The trick of course is to invent a language that is expressive emotionally, but isn't comprised of words but instead sound halfway between an animal sound and a human vocalization. It needed to be funny when appropriate and of course affectionate when appropriate. - Randy Thom
The Perfect Music for the Perfect Moments
Anyone who is familiar with the Charlie Brown specials can remember the iconic "Linus and Lucy" song created by Vince Guaraldi. Naturally the time-honored score made its way into the new movie. However, Martino wanted to utilize music much more than just add background noise to the movie.
First and foremost, I wanted to support the story telling in the best way possible. We (Martino and composer Christophe Beck) talked a lot about the jazz score. I wanted it to be like skipping a stone across water: every now and again it would touch and connect with that sound that we loved. BUT it's a new story. There was a particular moment where Charlie Brown, for the first time in his life, is dubbed a genius and his whole world gets turned upside down. And I wanted everything in that part of the story to feel different. So the music score in there needed to feel different than everything else going on in that journey... We would use full orchestra at times when the emotion calls for that. There are other moments where it's just simple piano in a Guaraldi-esk style. We also had a couple moments in the film where Meghan Trainor wrote two songs for the movie and they were just right for the story telling. It wasn't "Hey! We need to get a pop star!" It was more "This is what the story is calling for." - Steve Martino
I'll be honest, I was slightly thrown off when I first heard a pop song fading into a scene. But that momentary thought was quickly dispersed when I noticed how fitting it was for that portion of the film (and the fact that the song is incredibly catchy). Take a look for yourself with the lyric video of "Better When I'm Dancin'" featured in the DVD and Blu-ray extras!
Changing the camera dynamic for the Red Baron scenes
Although they tried to keep true to Schulz's original work, Martino knew they had to add a bit of a modern flare to the film. While the framing of Charlie Brown's "real world" closely resembled its predecessors, the animators found the perfect opportunity to change the style of the movie a bit with Snoopy's Red Baron fantasies.
When we flew with Snoopy, the camera was unhinged. The camera work with Charlie Brown's world was almost always at head level, three feet and some change off the ground so they would always stay on model. There are no camera moves in Charlie Brown's story where they go rotating around the character. - Steve Martino
But with Snoopy's Red Baron scenes, it was fair game to let things fly. Just check out the difference between the 1966 version from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Halloween special and the trailer for the 2015 The Peanuts Movie.
Concept and Characters still relatable
What makes this franchise so great is that there truly is something for everyone to enjoy. Despite being written over the course of multiple decades and cultural changes, there was always a deep connection viewers could form with The Peanuts.
Honestly I find it really, really funny. And that’s one of the main things. Even the Thanksgiving specials and Christmas specials and everything, even though they are pretty old, they are still funny. The humor in them is still alive. - Venus Schultheis (Peppermint Patty)
Back then there was like “meanings” behind [the Peanuts]. In each comic or special, it was a situation you’ve probably been in. So it kinda represents something that everyone can relate to. Alex Garfin (Linus)
What was interesting for me as we were working on the film, and this is a testament to Charles Schulz’s kinda capturing a universal human condition, my daughter was a freshman in high school and she had her first crush, a boy that she liked. And she would come home and I felt like I was seeing Charlie brown. One day she’d be like “He said hello!” and she’d be on top of the world. The next day “He didn’t see me… he didn’t say hello” ... she attitude was just careening off the cliff. And that’s what Charles Schulz captured. He captured our insecurities and he brings them to life, in Charlie Brown in particular, in such a big way that we can’t help but see ourselves in him and be thankful we don’t have it quite as bad as Charlie Brown. But you can always relate to him. - Steve Martino
I was immediately filled with joy from the very opening of the movie and was blown away by the end with how brilliant everything turned out. There’s something to be said when you walk out of a movie with a goofy smile on your face and even more so when you still have that same smile after watching it over and over (much like I have since getting my own copy of the movie). There are plenty of other aspects to this film that I have left out that are incredibly noteworthy. Pick up your own copy of The Peanuts Movie and see the magic for yourself!