Monday, April 8, 2013

New Peanuts Special Shines


(The following review was written on July 26, 2011 for Examiner.com. Since that time, the special has been aired on Fox at least twice.)
They’re back! The Peanuts gang are together again in the franchise’s 45th animation project, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. What is most disappointing is that the film was put “straight to DVD” in March of this year and it isn’t clear why that decision was made.
From all appearances, it seems that this project was originally intended to air on television but didn’t. This is odd since ABC has been airing many of the Peanuts’ holiday specials throughout the year. The DVD box says that it is an “original movie” but the running time is only 46 minutes, which is just about right for an hour special (minus the commercials). Also, the special features on the DVD refer to Blanket as a special. Whatever the reason may be, fans of Charlie Brown and his friends will find this a great addition and right up there with the best of the Peanuts specials.
Headed by Executive Producer, Craig Schultz, Charles Schultz’s son, the production team did everything they could to make it look and feel like a classic Charlie Brown story. The film was hand drawn (24 frames a second!) and used water color backgrounds, they found children with voices that matched the characters in the previous specials, and the jazz music is similar in style to that of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, but is actually composed of by Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO or all things.

What might be most surprising is that Steven Pastis, the creator of the comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, wrote the teleplay. Known for his sarcastic humor, this may seem like an odd choice, but Charles Schultz was a huge inspiration to Pastis who often references the Peanuts characters in his own strip. He and Craig went through hundreds of original comic strips and pieced them together to create a full story.
In the cartoon, Linus is pushed to his limits when he learns that his grandmother is coming for a visit and doesn’t approve of the security blanket. Since his own parents won’t make Linus part with it, she plans to do it for them. The rest of the gang try to help Linus “kick the habit” while Snoopy tries to steal the blanket for himself. Besides the main story, there are a few side stories featuring Lucy trying to romance Schroeder, Charlie Brown trying to fly a kite and the others trying to get Pig Pen to clean up his act. For the first time in years, it features long-forgotten characters like Shermy, Patty (not Peppermint, but the original), Violet and Frieda – you know, the girl with the naturally curly hair? It even features a vignette of the very first Peanuts comic strip. And don’t worry, none of the adults are seen and only say “waw, waw, waw” just as they always have.
The movie is slower paced and calmer than today’s modern cartoons. It is traditional and yet progressive. While not a faith-based story, Blanket offers a message that is familiar to church folk. At one point, Linus is at his wit’s end with all of his friends and family judging him because he has a security blanket. He stands on Snoopy’s doghouse and questions why he should be judged when they all have problems and insecurities too. He even goes as far as to suggest that his dependence for his blanket is about the same as his grandmother’s dependence on coffee. That doesn’t go over well.
As Christians, we can get so caught up seeing things as either right or wrong. We want our fellow parishioners listening to the same music or reading the same books and “doing church” the “right way” that we forget that God has made us each unique and doesn’t expect us to all be the same.
Finally, the DVD offers some special features worth watching as well:
·      The Deconstructing Schulz: From Comic Strip to Screenplay featurette.
·      The Happiness is Finding the Right Voice: Meet the Stellar Voice Cast featurette.
·      The 24 Frames a Second: Drawing and Animating a Peanuts Movie featurette.
·      A deleted scene with an introduction by Director Andy Beall
All in all, this is a true delight for fans. You’re children will enjoy it too.
          

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