There could be a new generation introduced to the zany thrills of the most famous World War I beagle flying ace ever in history — if the new team assembled to make Warner Bros. March 29 release, “Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown” succeeds with this latest entry into the Peanuts oeuvre. That’s the word from Craig Schulz, son of the late, great Charles Schulz, creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved comic strip gang.
“Next would be the Flying Ace film. We’ve got that started, and we’ve been having a lot of trouble with it, but if the Blanket show goes over well, I’m sure we’ll find a way,” he says.
According to Craig, “Every month or so there will be a new producer who’ll come up to Santa Rosa from L.A. with an idea for a new Peanuts — with new themes, with the edginess that’s out there in animation now. We get that constantly. But the family is really resolved that we’re sticking with my Dad’s work.”
Thus, “Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown” was made with painstaking effort toward authentically recreating the look, sound and feel of the classic Peanuts specials. According to Craig, 95 percent of the dialogue comes from original Charles Schulz strips. The senior Schulz, you may recall, decided to end the strip when he retired rather than hand it over to anyone else.
Craig tells us the impetus for “Warm Blanket” came when Warner Bros. contracted for Peanuts (Paramount was the comic’s former film home) and “within the contract were rights to two new specials.” But without his father or the late director Bill Melendez, “We had to get all new people and work from the ground up.”
Craig served as one of the executive producers and writers of the new special along with Stephan Pastis — author of the Pearls Before Swine comic strip and an avid Peanuts fan. A great break for Charlie Brown and his pals came when Pixar director Andy Beall (“Up,” “Ratatouille”) moved over to the Peanuts shop. “I always thought that no matter how good the story was, or the voices were, if it didn’t look right we’d be in big trouble,” says Schulz. “Once Andy came in, it started to look like the strips from the ’60s. All the animators said the same thing: The characters look so simple, but they’re extraordinarily difficult to animate.”
As for the cast, “We had over 100 kids come in” to audition. He personally listened to a selection of candidates while going back and forth between recordings from the 1965 Christmas special “matching voices. It turned out Andy and I agreed on every voice, with the exception of Pigpen. I never thought we’d find a Sally, but we actually had a pair of sisters who each sounded like her.”
The end result, which Warners is launching as a home video release, is exactly what Schulz had hoped for — a special so true to the originals “it will seem to fans as if they must have missed it earlier.” In it, Linus faces extreme blanket withdrawal as his blanket-hating grandmother’s visit draws near.
Meanwhile, Schulz adds that “We’re working hard” to expand the presence of Peanuts on internet portals, iPods, mobile phones, etc. — in addition to video.
“Obviously, the world is changing dramatically. We have to create stuff that works well in the new digital platforms. At the same time, Peanuts is timeless.”