Everything you need to know about “The Peanuts Movie” is contained in its first shot and its last.
The movie opens with black circles being drawn on a white screen. Gradually, they come alive, color is added, and you realize what you are watching are animated snowflakes falling. Ninety-three minutes later—after an adventure that has taken us from winter to summer, from despair to hope, from failure to friendship and even to something approaching young love—the color again fades to black and white and the last movement on the screen is a signature, as one familiar name is signed at the bottom right hand corner: “Schulz.”
This wonderful little movie is a sweetly nostalgic tribute to the art—and heart—of Charles Schulz, who drew the first “Peanuts” strip 65 years ago. “The Peanuts Movie” was produced by his son and grandson, who also co-authored the screenplay with Cornelius Uliano. To all involved—and especially, director Steve Martino—all I can say is “Thank you.” Thank you for honoring something (or someone) many of us consider a national treasure.
Thank you for not screwing this up.
As someone who grew up loving Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all the gang, and who collected “Peanuts” books when I was in grade school, and who even met the young woman who would become my wife when we both appeared in a summer theater production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” almost 40 years ago…I couldn’t be happier. The movie captures the innocence, the frustration, the joy, the melancholy and the singular vision of the Schulz strip beautifully. Everything I wanted to be in the movie was there: the “wah wah” trumpet blast of adult voices…the iconic Vince Guarldi piano riffs from the Christmas show…Lucy’s psychiatrist booth (help offered, still just 5 cents)…Snoopy’s typewriter…and the endearingly flaky sound of Bill Melendez as the beagle and his sidekick, Woodstock.
I was curious to find out what alchemy made all this happen, and uncovered this piece from The Washington Postlast year:
“We’ve all been Charlie Brown at one point in our lives.” Those are the words of Steve Martino –an Emmy-winning writer-director with Blue Sky who has worked on the studio’s “Ice Age” franchise. And that is the connection to character that Martino carried into his meeting with the keepers of the “Peanuts” flame. Martino is tight-lipped about what the film’s narrative will be, though he will tell us: “Here’s where I lean thematically. I want to go through this journey. … Charlie Brown is that guy who, in the face of repeated failure, picks himself back up and tries again. That’s no small task. I have kids who aspire to be something big and great. … a star football player or on Broadway. I think what Charlie Brown is — what I hope to show in this film — is the everyday qualities of perseverance…to pick yourself back up with a positive attitude — that’s every bit as heroic … as having a star on the Walk of Fame or being a star on Broadway. That’s the [story’s] core.” “This is a feature film story that has a strong dramatic drive, and takes its core ideas from the strip.” “It’s been a big, long, difficult road,” says the filmmaking son of Charles Schulz. “But we’ve got to uphold the legacy and be genuine to ‘Peanuts.’ ”
Elsewhere, Craig Schulz, the cartoonist’s son, has explained what guided his choices:
When presenting their film to studios, Craig stipulated that the film remain under Schulz control, saying, “We need[ed] to have absolute quality control and keep it under Dad’s legacy… You can’t bring people in from the outside and expect them to understand Peanuts.” Craig, stating there is no one “more protective of the comic strip than myself,” chose Martino as director because he showed faithfulness to literature in his adaptation of Dr. Seuss‘ Horton Hears a Who!.
To all that, I can only add: mission accomplished.
Go see “The Peanuts Movie.” Take your kids. Take your grandkids. You can thank me later.
Somewhere, I’m sure, Charles Schulz is smiling.