Everybody’s got a little piece of Charlie Brown in them
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved Peanuts Gang make their big-screen debut, like they’ve never been seen before, in state of the art 3D animation. Win a fun The Peanuts Movie hamper!
Charlie Brown, the world’s most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic and heroic quest, while his best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron. From the imagination of Charles M. Schulz and the creators of the Ice Age films, The Peanuts Movie will prove that every underdog has his day.
The Legacy of Charles M. Schultz
On October 2, 1950, Charles M. Schulz introduced the characters of Charlie Brown, Shermy and Patty in just seven newspapers, launching a 50-year journey for the cartoonist that forever changed the landscape of popular culture and humor. Schulz’s comic strip was hailed as one of the greatest of the twentieth century, and his characters launched a bona-fide industry, while providing a much-needed voice for the underdog, via Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown holds a unique position in pop culture. He has the distinction of being the only Peanuts character to appear in both the first comic strip on October 2 1950, and in the last strip on February 13, 2000. (Snoopy did not make an appearance until October 4, 1950).
Through all of life’s trials and tribulations—including a kite-eating tree, a losing baseball streak or the blunt advice of Lucy Van Pelt—Charlie Brown persevered. His eternal optimism gave us hope, which made him relatable to readers all over the world.
“Charlie Brown gets referred to as a loser all the time,” laments Craig Schulz, the son of Charles M. Schulz and one of THE PEANUTS MOVIE’s writers and producers. “But in reality, Charlie Brown is a winner because he never gives up. We all lose a lot more than we win, and who better than Charlie Brown to teach us that?”
With a knack for social commentary, Charles M. Schulz created characters and storylines rich with wit, sarcasm, humor and heart. In the mid-1960s, he introduced the character of Peppermint Patty. A tomboy at heart, she excelled in sports. In the 21st century, that seems par for the course, but in the 1960s, the introduction of girls playing sports on the same team as boys was nearly a decade ahead of its time. A few years later, in 1968, Schulz introduced the first black character to the strip, Franklin, as a classmate and teammate of Peppermint Patty and Marcie.
Schulz put into just four panels the world he saw unfolding around him. “I always thought of my dad as the great observer,” recalls Craig Schulz. “No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would find a comic strip in the moment. He never missed an opportunity to tell a story.”
Without realizing it, Charles Schulz had the uncanny ability to seamlessly weave relevant topics into the panels of his strip as if they were self-evident. “Through it all my dad never took advantage of his position. In 50 years, he never turned cynical about the world around him and that paid off. People genuinely care about these characters,” says Craig Schulz.
The universal appeal of all PEANUTS characters—encompassing Charlie Brown’s eternal underdog status, Linus’ heart, Franklin’s philosophy, Marcie’s introspection, Lucy’s crabbiness, Sally’s unrequited affection for her Sweet Babboo Linus, and Snoopy’s many personas— is the reason the strip and its characters have remained relevant as PEANUTS celebrates its 65th anniversary this year.
When PEANTUS completed its run in 2000, the strip had an estimated readership of over 350 million, and appeared in 2,600 newspapers, representing 21 countries around the world. With a combined grand total of 17,897 strips, each one drawn, inked and lettered by Schulz (15,391 daily; 2,506 Sunday), comic reprints continue in syndication, reaching new readers every day.
This year, that legacy continues with the return of the PEANUTS Gang to the big screen, in THE PEANUTS MOVIE.
You’re going to the Big Screen, Charlie Brown
Over the years, many studios had pursued a big screen version of PEANUTS, but the Schulz family resisted. Their thinking began to change when director Steve Martino expressed his passion and ideas for the project. Moreover, Craig Schulz had admired Martino’s work, including the way his film Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! was true to the style of Dr. Seuss.
In 2012, Schulz phoned Fox Animation Studios executive Ralph Millero to say that he had a script that he had written with his son Bryan Schulz and the younger Schulz’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano. (The three screenwriters also serve as producers.)
Moving with the speed of one of those fastballs that always seem to whiz by Charlie Brown, Millero took the script to Fox Animation Studios president Vanessa Morrison, who immediately set the wheels in motion.
Blue Sky and Fox had accomplished what every major studio had attempted: secure the film rights to one of the world’s most coveted properties.
The approach and care that Martino showed impressed the Schulz family. “We were very lucky to get Steve on board,” recalls Craig Schulz. “Over the years, we had dealt with many people who would come in say they’ve grown up with PEANUTS, and that they had a great story. But it’s not easy to step in the world my dad created, and to understand how he drew the strip. Steve Martino got it.”
Notes producer Michael J. Travers: “Working with the Schulzes and getting a story that felt true to the work of Charles M. Schulz was crucial. This film really is an extension of his legacy.”
To say that Martino felt some pressure would be an understatement. “I thought about Schroeder and his little toy piano, and on the day we were entrusted with these icons, I felt like I had a grand piano on my shoulders. I had artists lining up outside my door!” Adds supervising animator Nick Bruno: “It was the first time my dad called with an opinion on how not to screw up a project of ours!”
Rounding out the producing team is one of the film industry’s most respected filmmakers, the multi-talented (and lifelong PEANUTS fan) Paul Feig. “I almost fainted when Ralph Millero approached me to work on the film,” jokes Feig. “It was like getting the phone call to come on board for the re-make of ‘Star Wars.’”
The story’s in the pen line, Charlie Brown
As production geared up on THE PEANUTS MOVIE, Martino had a particularly memorable conversation with Craig Schulz: “Charles M. Schulz had a profound impact on me as a child and as an artist,” says Martino, “and in one of our initial meetings, Craig stopped me and said, ‘All of my dad’s friends referred to him as Sparky, so if we’re going to be on this journey together, that is what you should call him.’ That was such a great honor.”
To kick-off production, Craig Schulz brought acclaimed artist Tom Everhart to Blue Sky Studios to meet with the filmmakers and artists. Everhart is known for his larger-than-life interpretations of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the PEANUTS Gang, which have been exhibited in galleries around the globe—including the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, in Tokyo, and of course, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, a museum dedicated to the work and legacy of the famed cartoonist.
In a discussion about his careful study of Charles M. Schulz’s work, Everhart projected images of the cartoon strip on a movie screen to show the details of Schulz’s black ink lines.
“When Tom blew up the strip, we saw such detail in the ink and literally saw story in the line. It was incredible,” says Martino.
“It really was a paradigm shift for us,” adds art director Nash Dunnigan. “We knew then we had our launching pad for the look and style of the characters and production design.”
Admit it: At one point in your life, you doodled a version of Snoopy or his doghouse on a school notebook… or scribbled the iconic zig-zag of Charlie Brown’s sweater. Or perhaps you traced the characters from the Sunday comics. “When I was younger, I thought, I can draw Charlie Brown; it’s simple,’ says Martino. “But when you try to capture Charles M. Schulz’s work, it’s daunting!”
Pack your bags, Snoopy! You’re going to Santa Rosa!
To capture the characters’ unique traits, Martino and producer Michael J. Travers immersed the crew in the world of PEANUTS. They began that journey with a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center.
The museum is home to thousands of original PEANUTS comic strips, making it the single largest collection of the cartoon in the world. It also holds hundreds of Schulz’s sketches, book illustrations, personal artwork, and early drawings. The accompanying research center includes an impressive library, along with letters, photographs, interviews, and unique PEANUTS ephemeral items.
“The folks at the Schulz Museum were phenomenal,” says Martino. “They opened up their archives to us and were extremely welcoming.”
For insight into the subtleties of Schulz’s work, the artists, animators and story team turned to Paige Braddock, of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates. As Creative Director, Braddock is responsible for the look and creative development of all PEANUTS-related products worldwide, as well as the editorial direction of the publishing initiatives. “Paige was an invaluable resource to all of us,” says Martino. “She was the last artist to work and train with Sparky.”
Braddock gave the team from Blue Sky a nugget of advice that could be summed up in one word: Relax. “Schulz’s line was loose and organic. You can’t even get close to that line quality if you can’t relax,” says Braddock.
She reassured the artists they were not alone in feeling a bit overwhelmed by the challenges in mastering the characters, especially Charlie Brown’s head. “It is nearly impossible to get right when you first start working with the character, and if it is off in the least, it really stands out,” says Braddock.
Story artist Karen Disher traveled to Santa Rosa for what would become the first of many expeditions. A PEANUTS fan since childhood, she still learned much from these visits. For example, she notes, “Charlie Brown’s lines are deceptively simple. It was amazing how much emotion he Charles M. Schulz could get from simple little dots, lines and squiggles. And that’s hard to replicate.”
The entire Blue Sky team knew they would need to push the envelope to bring to life the screenplay by Craig Schulz, Bryan Schulz and Cornelius Uliano.
Originally, the writers thought about focusing the story on Snoopy, with Charlie Brown relegated to a secondary storyline. But they quickly decided against that direction, knowing that too much of Snoopy could overpower the film’s narrative. “My dad had that same problem with the strip,” recalls Craig Schulz. “He was constantly reining in Snoopy!”
To balance the story, it was decided to include the entire cast of PEANUTS characters, including some of its lesser-known members.
“It was Steve Martino who suggested we expand the world by bringing in the characters that everyone wants to see and to broaden the scope and the message,” recalls Craig Schulz.
At its core, THE PEANUTS MOVIE is about everyday anxieties we encounter while growing up, going to school, and dealing with the perceptions people have about one another. “We took that theme and changed the overall tone of the movie, which resulted in a stronger message, one that both adults and children can relate to,” says Schulz.
Martino and his teams made certain each character received a proper introduction and point of reference. Fortunately for the filmmakers, they had a set of well-established characters with strong voices created by Charles M. Schulz.
“What Sparky did so brilliantly for 50 years was to show the world it’s okay to express your emotions, anxieties, hopes and fears, without a filter,” says Martino. “We see a little bit of ourselves in each of the characters, and that is what makes them so relatable. Rather than internalizing the characters’ emotions, Schulz allowed them to be expressed openly, and we’ve stayed true to that narrative.
“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,” Martino continues. What Sparky has provided us with through all the years of the strip are really great characters. He wrote about universal topics that resonated with all of us, coming out of the voices of kids. They really are adults in children’s bodies.”
Martino was especially intrigued by Charlie Brown. “Everybody’s got a little piece of Charlie Brown in them,” Martino explains. “What’s great about the character is that he operates on such an extreme level, which always makes you feel better about your ‘Charlie Brown-ness.’ We’ve all been in those awkward situations and we’ve all had failures. Charlie Brown teaches us that in the midst of all that, you can pick yourself up and try again. So it was very important for us to capture that spirit in his expressions.”