Yesterday, the first trailer for next Christmas’ Peanuts film was released.
Wait. What? There’s a new Peanuts movie? How can that be?
Yes. Next Christmas, Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio behind the Ice Age and Rio series, will be releasing The Peanuts Movie, the first Peanuts film since 1980’s Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back) and the first CGI animated Peanuts film ever.
And for the “how,” in the past few years, the Schulz estate has started to open the door somewhat on Peanuts. Since Charles Schulz’s death, no one has written or drawn new editions of the Peanuts comic strip, but there are Peanuts comic books with new stories and there’s Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, a new animated special that was adapted from a number of old Peanuts comic strips. Plus, old material is being repackaged in new formats, like AMP’s themed collections (such as Snoopy: Cowabunga or Charlie Brown and Friends) or Fantagraphics’ holiday books (like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking or Batter Up, Charlie Brown!)
With that in mind, they wanted to move forward with a new animated film. And, to be honest, I can’t blame them. Animated movies, especially CGI animated movies, are a big deal right now. And new Peanuts projects will put Peanuts in front of new audiences who may not be familiar with the classic comic strip; get a comic book in their hand or get them in the theater for The Peanuts Movie, and those can be their gateway drug, for want of a better term, into the real Peanuts.
I have to admit, I was skeptical when The Peanuts Movie was announced. “CGI animated Peanuts?” I thought. “Sacrilege!” But then I thought about the trailer for Snoopy Flying Ace, a game for the Xbox 360, and the CGI animation worked really well there. Yes, I’m used to seeing Schulz’s characters in 2-dimensions, but it wasn’t weird to see them in 3-dimensions when the first teaser trailer came out in March:
It worked for me! Even the 2001 joke at the beginning! I said elsewhere at the time, “Considering all of Snoopy’s fantasy personas (heck, he even imagined himself as Mr. Sulu once!), I don’t have any problem with the 2001 intro. :)”
And that brings us to this week, when FOX Searchlight began to promote the film, first with an article in USA Today, and then yesterday with the first full-length trailer:
I liked it. But it’s also hard to judge.
The CGI look is fine and the punchline to two gags (Snoopy electrocuting Woodstock and everyone laughing at Charlie Brown in the movie theater) have sufficient bite to them. That’s something that we forget or conveniently ignore about Peanuts; it’s a meaner, more cynical piece of work than we give it credit for, and things like A Charlie Brown Christmas are actually downright cruel.
But! The pop song was wholly inappropriate; it’s as ahistorical as Charlie Brown in a Minnesota Twins uniform. Given the segment of the trailer that it matches — the Flying Ace in pursuit of the Red Baron — I would’ve preferred a Royal Guardsmen song (or at least a cover). “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron” would’ve been ideal, though I believe that Sparky absolutely hated the song.
Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic thought the trailer was too saccharine and I can’t say that he’s entirely wrong. Yet, judging a film and its tone from a trailer is impossible. This is two minutes long, the film will be eighty minutes or more. At this point, other than a few sentences in the USA Today article, we don’t know what the film’s story is; being a year out, that’s not really something that FOX needs to sell audiences on just yet. Right now, FOX is playing the nostalgia card, and the trailer seems designed to say to audiences, “This is the animated Peanuts you remember, these are the characters you love, and now they’re in 3-D CGI.” What matters for FOX and Blue Sky Studios right now is awareness, not Charlie Brown’s friends and dog being mercilessly cruel toward him.
Suffice it to say, I’m excited to know this is coming. Time spent with Charlie Brown and his friends is always time well spent, and next Christmas I and many others will undoubtedly be spending time with them.