The Peanuts gang hits the big screen for the first time in 35 years, and it wasn’t easy.
The beloved Peanuts gang made their debut on nine American newspapers 65 years ago, thanks to the imagination of Charles M Schulz. Since then, Charlie, Snoopy, Lucy, and the rest of the gang have won fans all around the world. Now, they are receiving the good ol’ animation treatment, and finally coming to the big screen for the first time since the 1980s. The Peanuts Movie sees Charlie Brown embark on a heroic quest, while his best friend, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to defeat his arch nemesis the Red Baron.
Securing the rights to one of the world’s most established and valuable properties was difficult, says Craig Schulz, the son of Charles M Schulz. Time and time again, the family resisted. But their thinking began to change when director Steve Martino expressed his passion and ideas for the project. He showed care and attention to detail that impressed the Schulz family, and in 2012, The Peanuts Movie was finally set in motion.
Martino knew that he had to show the personalities of each of these well known characters. “One of the challenges in animation is creating characters that are interesting and have depth, so that when you put them together, you’re able to create interesting scenarios and a compelling story,” says Martino.
The film has a strong theme and a stronger overall tone, which will hopefully resonate with people of all ages.
For the daunting task of leading a team of animators responsible for bringing the characters to life, Martino approached three veteran artists from Blue Sky Studios, the company behind Ice Age and Rio. Nick Bruno, Scott Carroll and Jeff Gabor were responsible for training, supervising and most importantly, keeping a team of 100 animators on-model. The trio had to introduce the unique animation style to everyone on the team – as it was completely new to the 100 animators.
They all attended a crash course in study of Schulz’s style and work, and watched the classic animated TV specials produced by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson to understand the movement of the characters. “There’s not a lot to go off on from the strips, for movement,” observes Gabor. “When you start to break down Snoopy’s 15 to 20 expressions, it was impossible to decipher the in-betweens for movement cues.”
Creating and designing the overall look of the film was just as challenging for the art department. Expanding the world fell into the hands of Nash Dunnigan, who challenged the team to refer back to the pen line of Schulz’s work in everything they designed. They noted that Schulz’s strips from the ‘80s and ‘90s had very simple backgrounds and props, leaving the filmmakers to fill in a lot of the blanks.
“We would review the strips and see only part of a lamp or couch, or just the corner of a window,” recalls set designer Jon Townley. “It became even more important to absorb the nuances of how he [Schulz] drew, and his style.”
Something Martino wanted to retain throughout the movie was a sense of authenticity to the voices of all the characters. After tiresome searches for the ideal Charlie Brown voice, they sound solace in the voice of Noah Schnapp, a ten-year-old boy. “Noah has a great voice for Charlie Brown, but also has a similar temperament to the character,” says Martino. He casted the voices of eleven-year-old Alex Griffin for the wonder-lisped Linus, ten-year-old Hadley Miller for the confident Lucy and Francesca Capaldi for the sweet Little Red-Haired Girl.
“The great thing about working with kids is that they have extraordinary imaginations,” says Martino. “Given that they are acting in an empty room, with no costumes, set or props, they only have the ability to paint a picture in their minds of the scene they are playing.”
To play Snoopy – and in a nod to the classic TV specials and to the legacy of Charles Schulz, Melendez, and Mendelson – the filmmakers were granted access to the vast library of Melendez’s recordings of Snoopy’s voice. “It’s very important we use Bill’s voice, so I approached his studio and secured a majority of the recordings he had made over the years,” says Craig Schulz.
The Peanuts Movie promises to be a wonderful continuation of the comic strip’s great legacy. It hopes to retain its charm and hilarity, and will hopefully generate a whole new generation of fans – which it so deserves.
Opens in Hong Kong on December 24