Good grief! Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang have returned to the animated screen in the new Blue Sky Studios Peanuts Movie. But unlike their annual holiday appearances in films like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Blue Sky Studios features them in a whole new way: 3d. Using this modern animation style rather than the 2d animation more nostalgic fans find familiar, Blue Sky Studios hopes to introduce the Peanuts characters to a new generation.
But has it worked? Or have nostalgic viewers held back from embracing the new format? If you are considering a research paper topic for your animation or history of comics class, take a look at The Peanuts Movie.
Reaching a new audience
Blue Sky Studios launched a host of initiatives to encourage discussion about the film before its release, including a prevalent viral campaign that allowed social media users to create their own look-alike Peanuts character. The result was a surge of Peanuts profile pictures across Facebook and other networks. But would the new film stay true to the feel of the old comics without too much updating? And would “21st century kids … relate to 1950s values?” asked Brent Northup in the November 20, 2015, Helena Independent Record “Film Review: The Peanuts Movie.”
“The early verdict is, evidently yes–the two-week box office is at $88 million in the states and another $9 million abroad,” Northup continued. (According to Box Office Mojo’s stats for December 3, 2015, the movie had made over $117 million and remained in the top 10 movies at the box office a full 28 days after its release.)
Charles Schulz’s character of an overly optimistic but perpetually down on his luck kid has resonated with audiences since Charlie Brown first appeared in the comics in 1950. Over the next nearly fifty years, while the comic evolved and changed, the heart of it stayed the same. The strip was syndicated and printed in 75 countries, with an audience over 350 million people. The Blue Sky movie, produced by Schulz’s son Craig Schulz and penned by grandson Bryan Schulz, offered the same type of pacing and storyline that Peanuts audiences find familiar, but with the twist that, for part of the movie at least, Charlie Brown actually succeeds at something.
Keeping the 2d animation crowd
But familiar story aside, what about the look of the characters? “The Peanuts Movie uses 3D computer animation to build a world that is slicker and smoother, with lusher colours and fuller forms,” wrote Alison Gillmor in the Winnipeg Free Press, November 7, 2015, in “Another Humiliation for Charlie Brown.” But for Gillmor, that slick feeling was a detraction: “those added bells and whistles don’t feel necessary… CG cartoons often come off like those massive, bright, shiny metal Christmas trees in A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Other critics, however, felt the animation successfully conveyed the style Schulz developed for both his strip and his original 2d animation cartoon specials. “I love Charles Schulz’s work ethic, and his economy of line. I can stare at his line work for hours studying the way a nonsense squiggle becomes, in context, the delivery mechanism for a content-rich payload. I was very concerned that this film would lose that,” wrote cartoonist Howard Tayler in his November 10, 2015, review “The Peanuts Movie” on his Schlock Mercenary blog. “I was happy to be wrong. The animators used the computer graphics to provide the context (heads, shoulders, doghouses, kites) and then used what I swear are digitized versions of actual Schulz-squiggles as mouths, eyebrows, and worry-lines. It was a brilliant melding of line-art and computer animation. I was mesmerized.”
Other films that have adapted 2d characters to 3d animation with lesser success include:
- Garfield: The Movie
- The Smurfs
- Alvin and the Chipmunks and sequels
- TMNT (the 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film)
None of those films managed to rate higher than 35% at Rotten Tomatoes–while The Peanuts Movie had earned an 86% rating from critics.
What do you think of 2d animation and comics converted to 3d or live action? Tell us in the comments.