Admit it, you’ve felt like Charlie Brown once or twice in your life. (You know, constantly losing and having things go wrong, but always ending up on top thanks to good friends?) So as you sit in your seat at the movie theater this week, you will feel your childhood memories flooding back while you watch the latest installation of The Peanuts Movie.
Even with the addition of a new character (The Little Red-Haired Girl) and new technology (3D), this movie still stays true to the themes of the original comics, movies and shows that have been produced since 1950, and in a very good way. Gone are the inappropriate adult references that movies throw in to keep the attention of the parents who sit through hours and hours of kid flicks to make their kiddos happy. There were no awkward laughs that you try to hold back because you don’t want your kid to figure out what the references really mean.
This movie was family-friendly in every sense of the word. It was truly enjoyable on the adult side to watch, not just for the kids. And speaking of the kids, Dittles and Papo watched the entire movie without going to the bathroom once. If you’ve been to the movies with kids, you know what an accomplishment this is.
Charlie’s and Snoopy’s storylines weaved in together surrounding the ideas of perseverance, optimism, honesty and hope. Charlie’s ordinariness was countered by Snoopy’s extra-ordinariness, still sharing the same general idea of overcoming an obstacle and finding your way to something (or someone) you love.
Charles M. Schulz created archetypal characters that are seemingly timeless in the face of the ever changing world around us. “I always thought of my dad as a great observer,” recalls his son Craig Schulz. “No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would find a comic strip in the moment. He never missed an opportunity to tell a story.” Craig also served as a writer and producer of the film, alongside his son Bryan Schulz.
But did you know this film was almost not made? The family of Charles M. Schulz, weary from countless proposals for big screen movies from avid fans, originally rejected the proposal eight years ago from Blue Sky Studios, an animation studio owned by 20th Century Fox. But with strong persistence, much like Charlie Brown, the Director Steve Martino was able to convince Charles’ family of his true intentions and ability to bring the characters to life for the world.
“Charles M. Schulz had a profound impact on me as a child and as an artist,” says Martino, “and in one of our initial meetings, Craig stopped me and said, ‘All of my dad’s friends referred to him as Sparky, so if we’re going to be on this journey together, that is what you should call him.’ That was such a great honor.”
Martino was so passionate regarding this film, that he and producer Michael J. Tavares brought their crew to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, CA, to research and study hundreds of comic strips, letters, photos and interviews to ensure that the film was true to the creator’s vision. Their extensive work was evident in the movie, as previously mentioned.
In addition to this cute little swag bag and screening the movie with my kids, Dittles World & I had the opportunity to interview Steve Martino & also Francesca Angelucci Capaldi (Little Red-Haired Girl) in Miami the day before the movie opened.
Cruelty Free Lucy/ Outersparkle: So, I’ll jump right in…This was really exciting to watch! I loved the movie. I think my favorite part about it was how authentic it stood next to going back and looking at the old movies, and I can totally envision sitting at home with a bowl of popcorn on a family night and watching it again over and over, along with the classics. How easy or difficult was it to stay authentic to the original?
Steve Martino: Well to do what I wanted to do with the film, which was making a feature film in 2015, so for me that is a big canvas. I wanted it to be a theatrical event, and something worth going to see on the big screen, because I wanted to bring a certain richness and color and vibrancy and lighting and that’s why I worked in computer animation. That’s the tool that I work at Blue Sky Studios, but it was the most technically challenging movie that I’ve ever worked on to make something look so deceptively simple. We animated in a totally different way, because I wanted the characters to look and feel, as you said, like the characters have always been.
Kids First: You mentioned that you work with computer graphics, is it true that you went to THE Ohio State University?
Steve Martino: I did! I’m very proud to be a Buckeye!
Kids First: You studied computer graphics there correct?
Steve Martino: I did.
Kids First: So how does it feel to, or how would you describe going from simple graphics from stuff like Pac-Man to making a full length movie all in animation?
Steve Martino: When I was in graduate school, and this was in the early 80’s doing computer animation, I had no concept that we would ever be able to make feature film using that technology. Back then, it took forever to make five seconds. I couldn’t imagine back then making 85 minutes of feature film quality footage, but the technology has grown so rapidly in the time that I’ve been in the business that I couldn’t be happier to be able to tell stories, and to me computer animation is the paintbrush that I use.
Diary of a Working Mom: You talk about making a feature film in 2015, and how that might be different from in the years past when you look at the specials, like The Great Pumpkin and the Christmas specials. What I noticed when I looked at the older specials…I happened to watch The Great Pumpkin several times this year with my daughter…that they are a little slower, a little slower in transitions or a little slower in dialogue. I noticed this film was faster paced. Was that intentionally done?
Steve Martino: It was, and it was a balance. If you compare this movie to the last movie I directed, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Peanuts appears slow compared to that. If you were to compare a live action movie from 1965 to a live action movie today, you would have the same observation. Things are cut faster, we move at a faster pace, we absorb information at a much faster rate than when I was growing up in the 60’s, so I wanted this film to meet a new generation where they live today, and so we found this right balance of pacing that feels unique for Peanuts, say compared to any other animated film today, it may seem even a little a slower, but much faster pace than any of the original specials. That’s a valid feature film storytelling in 2015.
Diary of a Working Mom: Attentions spans in 2015?
Steve Martino: Maybe a little bit! I totally…it’s that pace. I sat in screenings with kids and that’s the most fun for me actually, to watch them react to the movie, but yes, attention spans are much shorter than when I was growing up. It’s not bad or good, it’s just kind of what it is.
Me: I realized that too when you talk about attention span, my daughter and my son came in and they sat through and I actually commented about the fact that they didn’t leave like five times to go to the bathroom. They stayed throughout the entire thing and watched it!
Steve Martino: That’s the biggest compliment ever!
Diary of a Working Mom: It really is a great length for that movie. I have a four-year-old; she sat with me through the whole movie and she only asked me a question once and that’s a record!
Me: My husband couldn’t come and we shared a little bit of the movie, and he was like, “Oh wow that was always like that,” and he could see without even seeing, because it stayed so true to the characters and the theme, but also brought it something relatable to them (kids).
Steve Martino: That was the objective. Working with Craig Schulz and Brian Schulz as writers/producers on the film, and that’s the son and grandson, we worked very carefully together and they were great protectors of the fans. They live in that world where they want the legacy of their father’s work to continue to maintain that quality that it always has. As a film maker, I’ve made several animated films and I feel like I do understand an audience today, and our audience isn’t just kids. I went into this movie really feeling like it was a movie that I wanted to make for adults…grandparents, parents, and kids. It could be a film you take the whole family to and everyone would get some fun and enjoyment out of it.
Cruelty Free Lucy/ Outersparkle: I agree, because sometimes a kids’ movie will come out and we as parents are ughhhh. They want to see it and I don’t really want to go see it.
Steve Martino: Yeah I’ve been there!
Me: In other movies, sometimes they throw in stuff that is almost a little bit inappropriate for kids to try to keep the adults’ attention, and with The Peanuts Movie is it purely simple and we appreciate it, because we grew up with it. We like to expose our kids to stuff that’s classic. We actually have one of those Charlie Brown Christmas trees; we’ve had it for about 5 or 6 years, and every year we put up the Charlie Brown Christmas tree with a little red ornament on the table. So they were already familiar with Charlie Brown and the movies, so they were excited to see it.
Steve Martino: So now they will have something that they can own; this feature film will be theirs to say this is my tradition and my history.
Cruelty Free Lucy/ Outersparkle: It really did span the generations!
Diary of a Working Mom: People have asked me if there was overlying tone that adults will get, like the humor that’s too much for kids, and I’ve said no there’s not that…It just holds everyone’s attention.
Steve Martino: Well you know there are little things….. Charles Schulz always wrote the comic strip for adults. It’s not really adult, it’s about the human condition. He is writing about things that we as human beings whether you’re five-years-old or whether you’re 95, deal with…those little insecurities that you might have….. do people like me? Will I be remembered? Will I ever succeed? That is transgenerational; it doesn’t matter what age you are. That’s the beauty of what he created, and what we tried to bring into the film. That’s why I think anyone can watch it and feel like they connect to it.
Kids First: I’d like to ask a question to Francesca. What was it like working on an animation film, as opposed to a live action tv show like Dog With A Blog?
Francesca Capaldi: Well, it’s a lot different, because you don’t really have to worry about what you look like, you just go in and you just talk to the microphone and read the page. It was really fun to be able to, and Steven helped me a lot, to be able to create her voice. I just think it was really fun to know that my voice is going to be on the big screen.
Cruelty Free Lucy/ Outersparkle: How hard was it to not have the movie in front of you or did you have anything that you could look at in front of you?
Francesca Capaldi: No we actually did not! It was just four walls and a microphone, and that was it!
Steven Martino: I want their imaginations. This is the key! I’ve worked with actors of all ages and wonderfully talented adult actors. In the animation process, you have no costume, you have no set…some people really feed off of that and they find their character by being in that space. What I found with Francesca and all the kids in our cast, they have imagination, so we would talk about being we’re on the playground, you’re at school and this is happening, and they’re like OK I can picture that. They may not say it but I can tell in what they were delivering in their lines that they could put themselves in that place…without props, without costumes, without anything else, then we animate to that. There is no footage, no animation that’s been created. Their voice is kind of a guide for us.
Kids First: I wanted to ask you about that, because you directed Ice Age- Continental Drift, which had a lot of stars. What was the difference directing that movie and directing this movie, where you have child actors?
Steve Martino: You know…this was so much more fun! I loved working with the wide array of talent that I worked with in Ice Age, wonderful people, talented in their own right, funny, but we got to play. Somehow it reminded me…I coached soccer as my daughters were growing up, and I felt like I was back on the soccer field, where we would just keep it fun and loose. There were short little things that we would do, and it was just us! There were no agents and managers and other people worried about saying the wrong thing. It was just, we created, and it was great fun.
Diary of a Working Mom: We talked about Dog With A Blog…I am a big fan of your work, as our my six and 4-year-old…huge fans! Which do you like better?
Francesca Capaldi: I like them both, because they are both so different. When you’re with a cast or you’re working by yourself…I think they are both equally fun. Like I said they are different in so many ways. I guess it depends what mood you’re in! They both are so much fun to think you’re going to be on a tv or your voice is coming out of someone else’s body…when you think about it it’s so weird, but it was really fun to be able to create the little red-haired girl’s voice.
During the round-table interview, Mr. Martino began sketching Charlie Brown on the hotel notepad that each one of us had. It turns out he was attempting to teach Francesca how to draw Charlie, and she had begun to draw him as well. My daughter, a very passionate artist herself, began drawing what I thought was Charlie Brown along with them. But then I noticed, she gave Charlie a skirt and learned that she was actually drawing a girl dressed as Charlie Brown, like one of the scenes from the movie. When I didn’t realize who she was drawing at first, she got upset and crumbled up the paper.
I asked her if that was what Charlie would do and she said, “No.” She then un-crumpled the paper and asked me to help her give it to Mr. Martino. When she gave it to him, she also asked if she could have his Charlie Brown drawing, to which he obliged. Mr. Martino spent several minutes perfecting the drawing, and even adding Charlie’s other arm to the drawing upon Dittles’ request. Mr. Martino signed it and gave it to her, showing her that her own persistence had paid off. (A moment I am sure she will never forget).
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Disclosure: I received passes to attend the pre-screening, as well as movie promotional items. I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all opinions expressed are my own.