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News that Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios have signed a deal to turn Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip (and occasional TV special) Peanuts into an animated movie is something that, I admit, fills me with something approaching dread. It’s not that I don’t think Peanuts could work as a featue film — it’s done it before, after all — but more that I’m not sure eanuts could make it to the big screen in today’s animated culture unscathed.
Let’s face it: Animated movies today have a certain … similarity to them. That’s not to say that they’re identical, or anywhere near equal — as any comparison of a Pixar movie to, say, Ice Age demonstrates — but there’s a visual similarity in terms of direction, execution and overall aesthetic even between the best and the worst (In large part, I’d assume, due to the worst “learning from” the best in such a clear way), and that particular look … just isn’t Peanuts. There’s nothing in the official announcement of the project to assume that the Peanuts movie will be CGI’d in the way that we’ve come to expect animated movies to be, and yet … there’s also nothing that clearly states “You know, Peanuts clearly has a very distinctive visual style, and we’re going to do everything we can to stay true to that style in the new movie,” either.
And the people involved! Again, without clear details, it’s difficult to know exactly what the finished movie will look like, but knowing that the director for the project will be Steve Martino, the man behind Ice Age: Continental Drift and, more importantly, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who!, I get a little bit nervous. It’s not that it was a bad film, per se, but there was kind of a… loss of the very specific Seuss-ness of the whole thing, if that makes sense: The 3D characters looked like the originals, but in a mainstreamed, prettier way, and the writing became flatter through extension past the original and pop-culture references thrown in to appeal to more knowing audiences. The idea of a similar fate befalling Peanuts isn’t something that anyone should really be eagerly awaiting.
Also, I can’t shake the feeling that this is being seen as a children’s property by Fox. That’s something that makes sense in a lot of ways; it is, after all, based on a newspaper strip and cartoon series that’s beloved by all ages. But … Peanuts is like the Muppets: It’s actually beloved by all ages, and as such requires a more nuanced approach in order to be successful (Again, think of last year’s Muppets movie and then earlier attempts to revive the characters on television to see the difference between nuanced and … well, something far less watchable). If this is done with the same “bold” lack of subtlety that usually marks most-non Pixar animated movies, this could be something very, very depressing indeed.
Of course, I’m rushing to judgment. Maybe everyone involved gets Peanuts and the off-kilter humor behind it, and recognizes how important Schulz’s line work is to the whole thing, and the movie will turn out to be a faithful translation of what made the original so great. But I can’t help but feel like Charlie Brown on this one, amidst all the excitement and hoopla surrounding the news, thinking that despite everything, we got a rock on this one.