Charlie Brown, his best friend Snoopy the loveable beagle, and the rest of the Peanuts gang star in the first big-screen 3D animated film based on the iconic comic strip by Charles M. Schulz.
From the award winning Blue Sky Studios, THE PEANUTS MOVIE is a funny, exciting and upbeat animated adventure.
The story follows the hapless but determined Charlie Brown who falls for a newcomer to the neighborhood, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and embarks on a heroic quest. Snoopy meanwhile, sets off on his own journey as The Flying Ace, taking to the skies to confront his sworn enemy, the Red Baron.
How did your involvement with the film begin?
Three years ago I had the great opportunity to sit down with Craig Schulz in the Warm Puppy, the little café in Santa Rosa, California, next to the skating rink where his father, Charles Schulz, had lunch every single day. We talked about doing a PEANUTS feature film. Craig had been working with his son Bryan Schulz and Bryan’s writing partner Cornelius Uliano on an idea and the fact that they wanted to work with me was quite an honor. At Blue Sky, we had taken great care on HORTON HEARS A WHO! We had done a lot of research, upholding the work that we loved in the Dr. Seuss books and bringing it to the screen. Craig told me that when he saw that movie he thought that we had the approach he wanted for a PEANUTS movie.
How familiar were you with the comic strip?
I had my exposure of PEANUTS growing up in Dayton, Ohio, reading the comic strip and watching the TV specials. I was a huge fan. My favorite moments in the TV specials were when Snoopy would get on top of his doghouse and do what I call his ‘happy dance’ with his head up in the air. To me it was an expression of pure joy. I loved Snoopy. I also have a soft spot for Linus, with his wisdom and his security blanket. And on this movie I’ve grown to appreciate Charlie Brown a lot more, with his ‘never give up’ attitude to life.
How daunting was the project?
It was very daunting as I became even more aware of how popular these characters are around the world. I knew there was a great responsibility that came with bringing them to the big screen. When I would tell people I was working on a PEANUTS movie, the first thing out of their mouth was: ‘that’s great! I love PEANUTS.’ They would proceed to share a story about how the characters had touched them. Then they would always follow up by saying: ‘well don’t screw it up!’ Now I’m feeling the weight of that (laughs). But I will tell you that as we started the process here at Blue Sky, I found people lining up at my door wanting to work on this movie because the characters were so special to them as they were growing up.
What is the film about?
At the core of the story is Charlie Brown. He tries really hard and he falls down sometimes. He is caring, considerate and he’s got this optimistic attitude in the face of repeated failures, which is amazing. We can all relate to him because life brings moments where we trip and stumble. Charlie Brown does that in epic proportions. He also has perseverance and kindness.
What can you reveal about the plot?
It is about Snoopy and Charlie Brown, a boy and his dog. Snoopy is by Charlie Brown’s side in everything that he goes through. Snoopy goes off into his world of fantasy; he is the Flying Ace (in his imagination). He gets onto his doghouse and dons the Flying Ace gear. He’s got his goggles, his helmet and his plane. His red doghouse is actually one of the finest aircrafts around! We see him fly up against the Red Baron in a story that is motivated by what’s going on in Charlie Brown’s world. Charlie Brown is wrestling with feelings that he’s having for the first time, when the new girl in town, the Little Red-Haired girl, comes into his world.
Can you explain who inspired the Little Red-Haired Girl in Charles Schulz’s life?
She was one of the loves of his life, a girl named Donna Johnson Wold. He actually proposed to her but that proposal was not accepted. I think Sparky carried the emotion of that with him in his life, and she inspired the character of the Little Red-Haired Girl. That is one of the great things about Charles Schulz. He takes those things that happen to all of us in life, like rejection, all those emotions, and he packs them into a funny set of comic strips. We can relate to it. We can have some fun and laugh at the fact that we’re all human and have these experiences.
Who are the other main characters in the film?
They’re a wonderful collection. Of course we’ve got Linus, Lucy’s younger brother with his blanket. While Lucy tells Charlie Brown, ‘you need to be a winner, you need to change,’ Linus is that calm, reassuring voice who says, ‘Charlie Brown, you are fine the way you are.’ Sally is Charlie Brown’s younger sister. She is such fun. Franklin is very responsible. He is the guy at the microphone making school announcements whenever there’s a big assembly. I love Pigpen, he was one of the most fun to develop. He owns his dirt. He is very dignified as he carries around a dust cloud with him. Also, there is a fun side story with Patty (not Peppermint Patty), a character who was in the comic strip in the early 60’s. She secretly likes dirt—I think she must love making mud pies—and she has an eye for Pigpen. Her best friend Violet thinks that all that dirt is disgusting.
There are some great female characters in the film.
The girls are fantastic. Charles Schulz created a great collection of female characters. Lucy is a wonderful friend to Charlie Brown. She is brutally honest and sees the world through her own filter. She’s a big, bold character. Then we have Marcie and Peppermint Patty. Marcie is a wonderful student. That is not Peppermint Patty’s strong suit! But Peppermint Patty is quite a hockey player, skating out on the frozen pond.
What challenges have you encountered?
Charles Schulz has given us wonderful emotion in the way that he’s drawn the characters. Charlie Brown is happy. You look at the drawings and you get that. The challenge in bringing them to life is making you believe that the characters in the film are feeling, thinking and living. That comes down to the way that we express those feelings in the eyes and the mouth, but it also comes down to details, the way that we render the images so you begin to believe that the character is actually alive. We do that with the lighting and the way we put texture on the characters, but probably the most important thing is the way that we move them in the scene.
How difficult was it to stay true to Schulz’s drawings?
It was our mission to recreate these characters in the way that we saw them in the strip. So that meant that there were certain ways we were going to pose them. We were very strict about looking at the comic strip and creating those poses as our anchor. Charles Schulz provided all of the range of emotion that we needed. The tricky thing was to actually create the characters and animate them to feel like they’re moving naturally. This film offered us a chance to look at a totally different way of doing movement, to do something that feels fresh and new. Even though we’re reaching back into the past, a lot of our anchors and references come from work that was done back in the sixties. We’re bringing it to life with computer animation technology in a way that’s never been seen before.
Why do these stories still resonate?
Charles Schulz dealt with universal emotions and day to day life experiences and feelings: do people like me? Am I loved? What can I achieve? They were not based on pop culture or things that were happening in the news in that particular time frame. That is why the characters translate around the world, because we can all relate to friendship, family, how we love our dogs. Schulz brought the characters to life in a really funny way. They are still relevant and I wanted the movie to be timeless.
How did you achieve that?
That goal dictated a lot of the decisions we made in terms of the details, for example, what we put into Charlie Brown’s living room. Schulz drew different chairs through 50 years of drawing the comic strip. I selected things I would see in a house today. The only exception is the rotary phone because that’s classic and iconic and was always in PEANUTS. We also have the typewriter that Snoopy uses when he types his novel on top of the doghouse. There is a funny story behind that too. We show how Snoopy finds that typewriter.
When you’re making a film like this, how immersed do you get in the story?
It is totally immersing because you want the story to connect with people. I felt like I was living with Charlie Brown in his neighborhood for three years and getting to know the nuances of what Linus or Lucy would do in a particular situation.
What was it like working with the Schulz family?
Craig Schulz and everybody at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa provided a tremendous history for us which meant we weren’t jumping in completely cold. One of the great things about working on this film has been the experience of getting to know Craig, Bryan and Jeanie Schulz and having them welcome us into their family. We collaborated closely with them for three years. Personally, one of the great things for me was finding out more about Craig’s dad. I would dearly love to have met him. Charles Schulz was a golfer and I love to play golf. Through the process of working on this movie, I got Craig Schulz to start playing golf. He had never played before. We developed a friendship over golf. After work often he would say, ‘let’s go and get nine holes in and play together.’ He would take me to places that his dad used to play.
The film appeals to all ages. How did you achieve that?
PEANUTS never pandered to kids. As a matter of fact, I thought the comic strip was adult in its observation and commentary on life. Kids love PEANUTS, but it is about universal themes like the struggles to succeed, delivered in a language and approach that is appealing to adults too. Also, working on the movie, we can’t help but create something that entertains us and makes us laugh.
How fulfilling is your job?
It comes with challenges and stresses like every job does, but at the end of the day it is wonderful. We’re bringing animated characters to life that we get to share with the entire world. As an artist there’s nothing better than that. We had a test screening the other day when I sat with an audience and I was reminded of why we do this. You see a row full of kids, giggling and laughing and elbowing one another, and you’re like ‘oh my gosh this is what it’s all about.’
What do you think Charles M. Schulz would have thought of the film?
My hope is that he would have been proud of the work that we’re doing and what we’ve created. My greatest hope for an audience seeing this film is that they can disappear into this world and walk out at the end saying, ‘that was really fun.’ It has a great message and it’s got heart. Maybe we are bringing some joy into people’s lives. When Sparky was drawing the strip he would say, ‘I sit at my drawing table every day and I get to make people laugh.’ I hope that when people watch this film they will have a laugh and they’ll be touched.
SNOOPY AND CHARLIE BROWN: THE PEANUTS MOVIE is out now on Digital HD™ & on Blu-ray™ & DVD on 30th May, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment