One of the Best Christmas Themed Animated Movies Ever Made
Winter nights are long, dark and cold, and all we want is to be cuddled under a blanket, drinking cocoa or tea, watching the snow falling through the window. Even if there’s no snow it’s ok, we can see it on TV. It all starts like this: we dress up as idiots and look for our favorite Christmas themed fairytale or movie. Since new (good) Christmas movies aren’t exactly abundant, we’ll end up watching one we’ve already seen a hundred times… and the holiday season can begin!
The Peanuts Movie
Our choice this year is The Peanuts Movie, a 3D animated feature released in 2015., on the 65th anniversary of the comic book by Charles M. Schultz it was based on, and the 50th anniversary of the famous TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was produced by Blue Sky Studios, distributed by 20th Century Fox, and directed by Steve Martino, renowned for his Horton Hears a Who! From 2008. And Ice Age: Continental Drift from 2012. He is less known for his role as art director on Robots (2005.). He was also the creator of Gone Nutty, the short special that was released together with the first Ice Age movie in 2002. (which is the reason we all got to know and love the neurotic squirrel obsessed with a nut). The movie was written by Craig and Bryan Schulz, Schulz’s son and grandson, and Cornelius Uliano.
Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Marcie…
The Peanuts Movie was anxiously expected ever since the release was announced in 2012. Once it hit theatres, it was very well accepted among Peanuts fans and by animators and other industry professionals. Steve Martino had a tough job, since making a movie out of something that has a huge army of worshippers can haunt you for the rest of your life should you fail to meet their expectations. The characters, originally created by Charles M. Schultz had become recognizable worldwide, and since the sixties generation upon generation of children grew up with Snoopy, Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Marcie and others. There were so many toys and memorabilia manufactured and sold that not even Frozen could ever hope to catch up. Thousands of comic books, numerous animated versions, Christmas and Thanksgiving specials, musicals, theatre shows and even theme parks were made since Schultz created Charlie Brown.
Snoopy in 3D?!
The movie was done in 3D, which made a lot of fuss at first. How do you animate characters so well known in 2D and in comic books, which have made them recognizable worldwide. The characters personalities are determined with lines. How do you make them 3D and not ruin them?
Even by transferring the characters from comic book to 2D you loose Schultz’s signature drawing, not to mention the rectangular form in which the scenes are set. Polymorphing a few images into an animated feature sounded absurd, even though it has been discussed for years.
In 1963., the first TV animated sequence called A boy named Charlie Brown was created. It was two minutes long and directed by Bill Meléndez. It was done using cell animation. Before the project was finished, the first Christmas special, the aforementioned A Charlie Brown Christmas was created (1965.). It was done extremely fast, the entire production took only six months. Even the soundtrack was unusual for the time. The music was done by a pianist called Vince Guaraldi. What was missing was the widely spread lough track used in most Tv shows at the time. Even though it was predicted to fail miserably, the special won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and became the most watched Christmas movie. It’s still shown today almost every year.
How do you surpass, or even match that kind of success? Steve Martino and his team must have spent hours or even days contemplating the very same question. They have surely had to study the art of C. M. Schultz to the finest detail to begin with.
In his own unique was, Schultz was able to create characters which are seemingly simple; big-headed humans with dots for eyes. Trying to reproduce them, however, is much harder than it seems, which must be very well known to anyone who tried. His drawings are characterized by his unique pen strokes. They are sometimes thicker, sometimes thinner, they are never perfectly straight or digital-like, which makes his drawings have an old school charm which is hard to copy.
The characters are always the same, and they are always seen from a central perspective. The entire plot is derived from their personalities, which makes the stories childishly naïve and philosophical at the same time (especially if Linus is there). The pen strokes and the lines builds the characters and describes the motion in the comic book. What was most surprising is that the same technique was more than successfully employed in 3D!
Don’t mess with Schultz
The original lines and colors are preset, of course. Just try to picture Charlie Brown not wearing his yellow t-shirt. When 3D characters are created, the process is usually done in three stages: setting up the skeleton (rigging), modelling the character and adding textures. Once that is done the character is ready to be animated. What Martino’s team was able to do was very unorthodox. They went for 3D animation which imitated 2D drawings. For that to be done well, they must’ve studied all comic books ever made and defined how profiles, semi-profiles and en-face views were made, as well as all other aspects of the characters’ personalities. For example, Snoopy’s stylized form enables him to have a semi-profile with both eyes on one side. They ended up over exaggerating that by defining (shortening) the phases, thus stylizing the animation and giving it a special feel, extremely uncommon in 3D. They’ve also created original black and white squares appear in a cloud above Charlie’s head in amazing digital 2D. Those and many other tricks were employed in order to give The Peanuts Movie a look most similar to the original work.
The textures and lighting are completely new, though. When the movie was announced nobody could have imagined that the most important character – Snoopy, could have fur. It could have been done as a plastic model, stylized and simple. The texture applied, however, similar to a furry toy, combined with the diffused light gave a depth to Snoopy, as well as to all other characters, and even the backgrounds or the snow.
Who knows whether Schultz would approve of this new attempt at his life’s work? As far as we know, he didn’t even like the name Peanuts…
The Peanuts Movie received numerous positive reviews and awards and grossed over $240 million (and it was produced on a $99 million budget).