THE PEANUTS MOVIE
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
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 story team, led
by Jim Kammerud (head of story) and story artist Karen Disher traveled to Santa
Rosa for what would become the first of many expeditions.
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."
In this modern age of CG animated films, most storyboard artists have made
the transition from pencil and paper to working digitally. "We used to
storyboard everything on paper, but now we storyboard on tablets, so you're
basically drawing on a TV screen which is great, because there's an 'undo'
button," explains Kammerud. "But in Santa Rosa, we found ourselves working with
pencils and pads of paper in this room full of Sparky's drawings - and there's
no 'undo' button!"
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
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.
The 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.
"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
"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."
BACK TO SCHOOL
For the daunting task of leading the team of animators responsible for
bringing the characters to life, Martino turned to three of Blue Sky's seasoned
artists: supervising animators Nick Bruno and Scott Carroll, and lead animator
Jeff Gabor. All are ardent fans of Charles M. Schulz. "We wedged ourselves onto
this project," jokes Carroll.
Together, they were responsible for training, supervising and most
importantly, keeping on-model a team of 100 animators. Stressing clarity, focus
and simplicity, Bruno, Carroll and Gabor had to introduce an animation style
that was new to nearly everyone working on the film. Each animator joining the
team attended "Van Pelt University," a crash-course in the study of Charles M.
Schulz's style and work.
"There was a not a lot of information to go off on from the strips, for
movement," observes Gabor. "When you start to break down Snoopy's 15 or 20
expressions, it was impossible to decipher the in-betweens for movement cues, so
we turned to the specials,"
Gabor is referring to the animated television cartoons produced by Bill
Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Over the years, the duo oversaw more than 40 PEANUTS
television specials, winning a combined total of three Emmy awards and 20 Emmy
nominations. In 2015, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning "A Charlie Brown
Christmas" celebrates its 50th anniversary; to many, the airing of the special
signals the official start of the holiday season.
"If you look at what Bill Melendez did, it is like you are still looking at
the strip," observes Carroll. "The style he created for the specials was in
large part due to the design of the characters."
Adds Martino: "I listened to hours and hours of taped interviews with Bill
Melendez from the later part of his life, when he learned that you can't animate
these characters in a follow-through fashion. That's what drove his styling."
Legendary animator Bill Littlejohn (working for Melendez-Mendelson) was
responsible for animating two of the most memorable scenes of PEANUTS animation:
Snoopy's infamous dance on Schroder's piano from the Christmas special, and the
"Red Baron" sequences from the Halloween special. Littlejohn's ability to
translate Snoopy's antics and pantomime into story has been lauded and studied
by aspiring animators all over the world, including those at Blue Sky.
"Bill Littlejohn gave me my very first understanding of animation," recalls
Bruno. "When I was five years old, I received a Fisher Price Cartoon Viewer for
Christmas, which came with a set of PEANUTS animation. I would stay up all night
stepping through Bill's masterpiece 'Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.' There was
something magical about understanding that Snoopy was on the losing end of a
dogfight, without ever seeing his opponent!"
Adds Scott Carroll: "If we hadn't studied Bill Littlejohn's work, we wouldn't
have gotten that iconic PEANUTS look and feel in the animation."
THIS IS YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, CHARLIE BROWN
BRINGING the PEANUTS world and characters to the big screen in CG was a
formidable task, but not just for the animators. Creating and designing the
overall look of the film was just as challenging for the art department. "I
always looked at the comic strip and wanted to know a little more about Charlie
Brown's world," says Martino. "Sparky always gave us a short snapshot-a tight
shot of their world."
Expanding that world fell to art director Nash Dunnigan and his team.
"Sparky is, in essence, our production designer," says Dunnigan. "His
original comic strips provide a wealth of information for our visual approach."
Pouring over thousands of comic strips, the design team discovered the common
threads throughout Schulz's work.
It was important to Dunnigan maintain a design consistency and avoid
over-stylization. "You can only take the level of detail in the props and
environments so far before there's a disconnect," he explains. "We didn't want
to compete with the intended simplicity of the film's look."
Dunnigan 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 backgrounds, "set dressing" and "props" with a simple aesthetic,
leaving the filmmakers to fill in a lot of blanks. "We would review the strips
and see only part of a lamp or couch, or just a corner of a window," recalls
lead set designer Jon Townley. "It became even more important to absorb the
nuances of how he [Schulz] drew and his style."
Martino knew he wanted to draw a clear distinction in the production design
between the action that takes place in the beagle's fantasy sequences, where his
imagination takes him to the skies as the World War I Flying Ace, and those that
take place in the "real world."
The scenes set in Charlie Brown's house, in the school and throughout the
neighborhood are styled with desaturated background colors, in order to not take
away from the main characters' signature saturated and vibrant colors. "Steve
wanted us to feel as if we might be looking at the Sunday comic strip when we
were in Charlie Brown's neighborhood or house," explains Dunnigan.
Turning to Snoopy's flights of fancy, the team wanted to push color
boundaries. With Snoopy and his siblings primarily white, the deeper colors of
the spectrum would accentuate their actions.
One of the more charming aspects of the strip is that the characters seem
ageless. "We tried to achieve timeless styling in order to avoid dating the
film-with a few exceptions," explains Dunnigan. "We tried to stay away from
concepts that were not in Sparky's strips." For example, the design team
explored placing a television in the background of Charlie Brown's living room,
as a prop. In researching the strips, the team noticed that the comics featured
a 1970s console type television set. "We designed and modeled the TV," recalls
Nash, "but decided not to use it as we felt it dated the scene and film. The TV
introduced multi-media and a 'decade' and we didn't want to introduce those
The filmmakers did make one exception, by including the iconic rotary phone
seen in so many of Schulz's strips and comics.
The look of THE PEANUTS MOVIE is a testament to the legacy of Charles M.
Schulz. "I immediately fell in love with the film's design," says producer Paul
Feig. "It doesn't challenge your perception of what PEANUTS should be like, but
rather, it adds to it."
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT....
When Snoopy enters his fantasy world, we the find the beloved beagle typing
away, as his alter ego, the "World Famous Author," endeavors to write the next
great novel. With his trusty editor Woodstock by his side, Snoopy begins "The
Greatest Story Ever Told," with the classic line, "It was a dark and stormy
"Snoopy sees what is going on in Charlie Brown's life and takes his cues from
there and we see the story progress in his fantasy world," explains Martino. The
most recent twist in Charlie Brown's life is his being smitten with The Little
Red-Haired Girl, the new kid in his neighborhood and classroom. Snoopy, like his
pal, is pursuing a romance. Uliano notes: "Snoopy's story is filled with love
and adventure, set against the backdrop of WWI as the WWI Flying Ace sets off to
win the heart of a beautiful pilot named Fifi, while facing off against his
arch-nemesis, The Red Baron."
For Bryan Schulz, this part of the film's narrative was particularly
satisfying, both as a writer and a fan. "This sequence was a chance for me to
finally answer a question I had been pondering for years: Why was Snoopy even
chasing the Red Baron?"
GIVING VOICE(S) TO 'THE PEANUTS MOVIE'
To generations that grew up with the PEANUTS specials, the voices of Charlie
Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally and the rest of gang are ingrained in our minds.
Casting the right young actors would be crucial to the film's success.
The filmmakers met with over 1,000 hopefuls on both the East and West Coasts.
To gauge cadence and rhythm, they auditioned the actors using dialogue and
script passages from the PEANUTS.
After an exhausting search, Martino found his Charlie Brown in ten-year-old,
Scarsdale, New York resident Noah Schnapp. "Noah has a great voice for Charlie
Brown, but also has a similar temperament to the character," says Martino. "That
allowed us to rely on his natural tendencies and it really felt like Charlie
Casting the voice of Linus led to several sleepless nights for Martino. "Linus
was my favorite voice from the original PEANUTS specials and was the voice I was
most worried about casting," he recalls. "Linus had this wonderful natural lisp.
It was never overdone but it felt so 'real.' Eleven- year-old Alex Garfin, from
New York, landed the role. "In our story, Linus is that steady, supportive
friend for Charlie Brown," says Martino, "and like Noah does with Charlie Brown,
Alex has a temperament that feels like Linus."
It takes a confident actress to play Lucy, and Martino found that in
ten-year-old Huntington Beach, California native Hadley Miller. But rest
assured, Hadley does not have the disposition of her crabby, bossy counterpart,
Lucy. "Hadley has this sweet, well-mannered personality and I wondered if she
could play the bold, brash side of Lucy," says the director. But that concern
was alleviated when Hadley stepped into the recording booth.
"She knocked me over with her big, bold delivery," says Martino. "Hadley
really understood Lucy. I said 'Wow, that was amazing,' and then back to being
just Hadley, she said in the sweetest, most polite voice, 'Thank you.' She was
Although the Little Red-Haired Girl has only a few lines, she is an
undeniable force in the story, as Charlie Brown's major crush. "It was important
that her voice have both sincere and sweet qualities," says Martino.
Ten-year-old Francesca Capaldi, best known for work on the Disney Channel TV
show "Dog with a Blog," takes on the role.
Early in the recording process, Craig Schulz attended a voice session of
Mariel Sheets, the young actress who portrays Sally Brown. Sheets had no idea
who Schulz was, and during a break, Schulz recalls how she rattled off lines
from the Christmas and Halloween specials, beat for beat, with perfect pacing.
"She was phenomenal," he praises.
"The great thing about working with kids is that they have extraordinary
imaginations," says Martino. "Given that they are acting in an empty room, and
with no costumes, set, or props, they have only our ability to paint a picture
in their minds of the scene they are playing."
Snoopy's love interest, Fifi, presented another voice casting challenge.
Introduced in a special in the 1980s, Fifi never spoke, so the filmmakers had to
figure out how to best approach her voice. "We wanted to do something special
yet appropriate and not just stunt-cast for the sake of stunt casting," explains
Their found their Fifi in Tony and Emmy award winner Kristin Chenoweth.
Chenoweth won a Tony and Drama Desk awards in 1999 for her portrayal of Sally
Brown in the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." This fall, Chenoweth, a
longtime PEANUTS fan, appears on the 50th Anniversary television special for "A
Charlie Brown Christmas" and performs "Christmas Time is Here," the program's
Working with Chenoweth was a coming home for the team at Blue Sky, as she
voiced the character Gabi in the studio's film "Rio 2." Says Martino, "Having
Kristin add her unique talents to our film is a huge thrill for all of us at
Blue Sky, and given her fifteen-year association and collaboration as part of
the PEANUTS family, it made for the perfect match."
IN THE MIX
Two-time Academy Award winner Randy Thom, Supervising Sound Editor and
Supervising Sound Mixer on THE PEANUTS MOVIE, is no stranger to the world of
animation. A legend in the craft of sound design and mixing, Thom, who is based
at Skywalker Sound, has worked on over 20 animated films, including the "How to
Train Your Dragon" and "Rio" films and "The Incredibles" (for which is won an
Thom embraces the myriad challenges of animation and designing a world of
sound from scratch. "It's wonderful to thing to work in a variety of styles," he
says. "What I particularly enjoyed about THE PEANUTS MOVIE is the directive and
challenge set by Steve Martino that we stay true to the original sound of the
PEANUTS TV specials.
"Even though we used contemporary equipment we employed special techniques to
antique them, incorporating characteristic sounds you'd recognize from the
specials," Thom continues.
In a nod to the classic specials and to the legacy of Charles M. Schulz, Bill
Melendez and Lee Mendelson, the filmmakers were granted access to the library of
Melendez's recordings of Snoopy's voice. "It was really important for us to 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.
Entrusted with the recordings of Melendez (voicing Snoopy and Woodstock),
Thom took special care incorporating them into the film. "We studied Bill's
voice and the recordings he made at the time," explains Thom. "He would record
himself doing just hums and purrs and whistles and modulate his voice up and
down, and then he would later alter the pitch higher so that it was a funny
little creature. The trick of course is to invent a language that is expressive
emotionally, but isn't comprised of words but instead sound halfway between an
animal sound and human vocalization. It needed to be funny when appropriate and
of course affectionate when appropriate."
CUE MESTRO, SCHROEDER
THE PEANUTS MOVIE features the iconic music of Vince Guaraldi, who composed
the beloved "Linus and Lucy" song from the television specials. "Let me put your
concerns to rest," confirms Martino, "the 'Linus and Lucy' song and all the cues
you know and love are in the film!"
Martino turned to longtime PEANUTS collaborator, jazz legend David Benoit, to
perform the memorable title tracks for the film. To bring to life the iconic
"voice" of Ms. Othmar (the kids' teacher) and all the other adult voices in the
cast, the filmmakers tapped New Orleans jazz legend Troy "Trombone Shorty"
At the helm of all the music is composer Christophe Beck ("Frozen," "Ant
Man," "Pitch Perfect").
In one memorable scene, Snoopy teaches Charlie Brown to dance (so he can
impress the Little Red-Haired Girl). Knowing the scene called for a song,
Martino turned to one of the world's top new musical artists, Billboard Music
Award winning and Grammy nominated Meghan Trainor, to pen an original tune for
the film. "Meghan has written a wonderful song that expresses Charlie Brown's
optimistic attitude as he works with Snoopy to become a better dancer," says
Martino. "She is such an amazing singer songwriter and a shining example of the
thematic heart of our story."
Trainor met with the team at Blue Sky and seemingly overnight captured the
essence of the film in song. "Musically, Meghan had me from her very first rough
demo," Martino says. "My foot was tapping and I had a huge smile on my face as I
could see this moment in the movie being lifted by her unique talents."
Trainor commented: "As a lifelong fan of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest
of the Peanuts Gang, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to see an early
version of THE PEANUTS MOVIE-and to then be inspired to write a song that
captured the film's spirit, energy and sense of joy. And it was a pleasure to
work with director Steve Martino to make sure the song did right by the
incredible characters and world he's bringing to the big screen."
Bringing that world to moviegoers has been journey of a lifetime for Martino,
and the teams at Blue Sky Studios and Fox Animation Studios. Their efforts
culminate with the release of THE PEANUTS MOVIE in theaters everywhere on
November 6, 2015.
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