Magazine article Screen International

The Peanuts Movie': Snoopy's Welcome Return

Magazine article Screen International

The Peanuts Movie': Snoopy's Welcome Return

Article excerpt

Steve Martino has turned an early passion for computer animation into a stellar career, directing features including Horton Hears A Who and Ice Age: Continental Drift, both for Blue Sky Studios.

When 20th Century Fox Animation, which releases Blue Sky's films, brought him on board to direct The Peanuts Movie, the first feature version of Charles Schulz's long-running comic strip Peanuts in 35 years, Martino knew the biggest challenge would be retaining the spirit of Schulz's characters, including Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Lucy.

The rights to those characters are owned by Peanuts Worldwide, a joint venture of the Iconix Brand Group and the Schulz family. Craig Schulz, Charles Schulz's son, represents the family estate, and began to work on a new story with his son, the screenwriter Bryan Schulz.

Martino was finishing Ice Age: Continental Driftwhen he first met with the two Schulzes in Santa Rosa, California, home of the Charles M Schulz museum.

"It was the antithesis of the power lunch," Martino recalls. "We were in the Birthday Room of the Warm Puppy, a little cafe that's next to the skating rink where Charles Schulz had lunch every day when he created the comic strip. So we were there with pictures of Snoopy on the wall and we talked about making a movie together."

The Schulzes wanted to be sure the characters would not be modernised. "We don't want to see Charlie Brown twerking or pulling out his iPhone," Martino says with a laugh.

With that caveat happily in place, Martino knew the film needed to combine nostalgia for the comic strip, which began in 1950 and ran until 2000, with a contemporary feel that would appeal to a 2015 audience who might not have heard of Peanuts before. (The name is thought to refer to a 1950s word for 'children', although Schulz famously never liked it as he thought it nonsensical.)

"The great thing is the stories really are timeless," says Martino. "Charles Schulz was able to connect with people about the human condition. His stuffwas not really about pop culture, it was about universal ideas and feelings. Like Charlie Brown's feelings of insecurity: 'Will I ever achieve something?' and 'do people like me?' These things are timeless and we made certain we utilised that.

"We create moments where we can introduce the fact that Peppermint Patty is a great athlete and that Marcy is really smart, that Pig Pen has this dust cloud, that Sally likes Linus," says Martino of how the team worked it out. "It makes for fun story-telling. If you're a fan, you love reliving some of those moments, and for a new generation you get brought into the story by understanding who the individual personalities are."

Back to the storyboard

Martino developed the script through storyboarding and story reels (storyboards cut with dialogue), bringing storyboard artists to Santa Rosa to complete a large portion of this work in the office right next to where Schulz drew the original comic strip.

"What I find is you take the script, which was in good shape as we started, and as you put it up in story reels it begins to speak back to you and you begin to react to it," Martino explains. As new ideas emerged from the storyboarding, it would inspire new writing from Craig and Bryan Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano, the feature's writing team.

Blue Sky Studios chooses a style of animation and a visual approach that is unique to each film it creates based on the story's needs. In early research trips to the Schulz museum, Martino would stand over Schulz's desk and look at a video that showed Schulz drawing the characters. …

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