Based on last year’s excellent new Fox Network Peanuts special “Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown”, the writing of Charles Schulz has been capably assimilated by his son, Craig. And that’s a miracle, because nobody would have thought even a Schulz sibling would be capable of replicating the psychological and social insight the Peanuts comic strip and the classic TV specials accomplished. Now with Craig Schulz co-writing the script for a new Peanuts movie out in 2015, will it have the same appeal as the “Warm Blanket” TV special?
Brilliant writing is winning half the battle, but so is the general aesthetic of the Peanuts universe. When word was released at CinemaCon on April 18 that the film is going to be in CGI and 3D, there must have been instant flashbacks to watching Peanuts specials on a very 2D analog TV. It’s the latter format that nearly every generation since the 1960s remember Peanuts as looking like, even if some of the early feature films captured a slightly wider screen spirit of the era.
I’ve long argued that the full appeal of the Peanuts TV specials were a cumulative aesthetic that also included the complementary CBS logo, bumpers, and Dolly Madison cupcake ads. While the new Fox special had none of those, it still managed to capture a spirit of the 1960s and ’70s specials within a 16×9 frame. That’s mostly because it appeared to be animated in an old-fashioned way, which included the colorful outdoor and indoor backgrounds.
Why CGI has to meddle into organic things is perhaps worthy of some kind of academic treatise. It’s hard to imagine anyone who grew up assimilating the distinctive Peanuts character designs would accept them being re-created through a CGI filter. Every ounce of personality that emanated from the characters came directly from the pen of Schulz or at least as direct adviser in the TV specials and films.
Then again, the argument may be that longtime observers of the characters understand them so well now that those working in CGI could convey it just the same. Assuming some CGI was used in animating the “Warm Blanket” special, one can only hope for it looking identical. 3D, however, would end up being the worst blight in a Peanuts world that should always stay in two dimensions.
Never has there been an animation so distinctly 2D than the Peanuts specials. If seeing a 3D Snoopy fighting as the Red Baron would be fun for a few minutes, seeing an entire Peanuts movie in the format doesn’t make sense in bringing the sense of the familiar. When the movie comes out, the majority of the public may want it to resemble the original format as much as possible.
That’s always been the trickiest part of reviving Peanuts on the big screen. How can it be a relevant movie today when so many kids expect to see such things in 3D or overloaded with CGI? It’s nearly incomprehensible to think a full generation has grown up knowing animation as only digital.
Perhaps a TV-like balance can be found in the new Peanuts movie that assuages the 63-year base of fans. It’s still much to expect, though, when even the wonderful 1960s and ’70s Peanuts movies “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy Come Home” played better on TV in later years than originally on the big screen.