A fancy pants computer-animated Peanuts movie is scheduled for release in 2015. A teaser trailer for it was released today:
There was an autobiographical underpinning to Peanuts that a lot of people don't recognize. The thing about Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons is that they're an intensely personal statement. Those characters in that world are like handwriting, they're so stylized and individual. Reading Peanuts in the paper, you could watch Schulz's hand start to quaver as he got older, and you could always picture him at his desk, sketching each panel. I enjoy the old Peanuts animated TV specials as much as anyone, but they feel more like second-hand stories, like an old family friend fondly recalling something your grandparents did before you were born.
There's no trace of Charles Schulz in this trailer. You can look at some stills from the Peanuts movie on Cartoon Brew, and they demonstrate exactly what I mean. We don't need to see the texture of Snoopy's hair. We don't need to be able to recognize every stitch in the scuffed leather on Charlie Brown's shoes. That's because Snoopy didn't have hair, and Charlie Brown's shoes weren't made out of leather. Those shoes were always made out of ink and paper. Snoopy was a lasso of ink thrown around a white patch of newsprint. You might think that sounds obvious and petty, but I'm trying to get at something more meaningful here.
Peanuts wasn't a document of realism. The characters in Peanuts weren't intended to be real children who grow up and get jobs and have kids and die. Schulz never once tried to explain the passage of time in his strip, why the kids could be mesmerized by hi-fi stereo systems in the 1960s but also obsessed with Tiger Woods in the 1990s. They were into those things because Charles Schulz was into those things. Real kids don't talk like that, but Schulz did. When Schulz had a cold, the lines that made up Charlie Brown weren't quite as dynamic as they were when Schulz was feeling good. If there's no trace of Schulz in a Peanuts story, it's not really a Peanuts story.
I'm not going to call this Peanuts movie an abomination or anything like that. I'm sure that it's fine. I'm happy that more kids will have Peanuts in their lives because of this film. But for filmmakers to boast about how they have "have a bigger canvas" in this movie, and claim that they're "going to take it a step further" demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about what Peanuts is. Peanuts fits into a series of squares less than an inch wide and less than an inch tall. Schulz never needed a bigger canvas: His whole entire life fit into those tiny damned squares, and it made for one of the most staggering works of art that was created in the 20th century.
Schulz's heirs and the movie's producers can try to convince us all they want that Schulz would have given his blessing to this film, and, hell, he probably would have. But there's nothing of his life, here. The best we can hope for is that the movie will manage to take on a life of its own.