Hollywood’s latest act of grave-robbing has just been announced: 20th Century Fox, along with Blue Sky Studios, has purchased a script for a feature-length film of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters. Written by Craig and Bryan Schulz, son and grandson of Charles, and Cornelius Uliano, the film will be directed by Steve Martino. It will be released on November 25, 2015, 65 years after the first Peanuts strip, and in the same year as the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas the first (and still most popular) Peanuts special. This would be the fifth theatrical film featuring the Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang, and the first since 1980’s Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!). Fox is hopeful that the film will lead to a rebirth of the franchise in film.
A title has not yet been announced (unless Peanuts is itself the title, but this would be a pretty poor title, as Charles Schulz never liked the strip name, and Charlie Brown and Snoopy are well-recognized enough on their own to not need a straightforward franchise title.)
But even if the title is indeed Peanuts, this is probably the smallest concern I have with the project. The upside of Craig and Bryan Schulz working on the screenplay is that at least it will be reasonably respectful to the strip and characters, and won’t turn the kids into street-rapping leprechauns helping some lovelorn “real” person. The downside is, these are the same people that authorized the lackluster Peanuts specials in years past, that simply regurgitate Schulz’s last few years of strips and never capture the feel of the classic specials. They may be all right, but does anybody prefer I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown to A Charlie Brown Christmas?
Adding to the concern is who is making the film. Steve Martino’s directorial credits consist of Horton Hears a Who and Ice Age: Continental Drift — the fourth and least popular of the series. Blue Sky Studios created those films, along with Rio, and not one work of traditional animation. The logical conclusion is that, as they have only created CGI movies, the 2015 Peanuts film will be a CGI movie. I can’t imagine that looking right for the characters. Animators had a hard enough time replicating the look in 2D, especially with Schulz’s signature irregular lines. Also, I somehow doubt that a major film studio looking to re-estabish Peanuts as a franchise is going to keep to the tradition of using untrained child actors for the voices, which was a large part of the charm of the original specials. I can just picture them going for an all-out star-studded cast of voices for the characters… probably including Snoopy, who was voiceless in all but a few of the specials.
Charles Schulz passed away in 2000, on the eve of his last strip. Bill Melendez, who directed every special except 2011’s Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, passed away in 2008. The two men most responsible for making A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and all the rest, are gone. It’s time to let the franchise go as well. It is highly questionable that it can live on and honor the spirit of Charles Schulz’s work without Charles Schulz.
The one thing I can say they’ve done right for certain is picking the release year. 65th anniversary of the strip, 50th anniversary of the first special, 35th anniversary of the last theatrical film. Pretty good choice all around; they should be able to do some good marketing there. If the people who own the DVD rights to the specials and films are smart, they can really put out a good sales push that Christmas. Maybe the four theatrical features that have already been made will finally be put out on DVD, and at least some good will come of this.