All of the Charlie Brown Animated Specials Suck


No surprises here:
The most ominous aspect of the forthcoming Peanuts 3-D Blue Sky Studio movie is not the artwork. Though, don't get me wrong, the artwork looks dreadful. Charles Schulz's cartoons varied over the years from deceptively sleek pen lines in his early days to pleasingly shaky dumpiness after his stroke, but flatness and minimalism was always central to his aesthetic—even in the animated features.
Blue Sky dispenses with that, choosing instead to turn Charlie Brown and the gang into bloated, uncanny-valley inflatables. The teaser trailer released earlier this year, in which the grandiose earth turns into Charlie Brown's head to John Williams-esque fanfare, seems nauseatingly apropos. A world so small that the grass had to be drawn in side-view and adults couldn't fit in the frame has been blown up to Hollywood proportions. It reminds me of that terrifying (NSFW) Charles Ray sculpture, where the nude toddlers are scaled up to adult size—hulking and oh-so-wrong.
So, yes, the art is irredeemably ugly and callow. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that, in these just-released stills, everyone is smiling.
What you see above is about what you expect. The animated specials, rendered decades ago and lamented by Schultz with one hand while scooping up wads of cash with the other, have plenty of smiling and laughing in them:



Noah Berlatsky can't quite grasp the fact that the new Charlie Brown animated special wasn't intended for him--it is intended for an audience that no longer reads comic strips. Aside from collectors and a few strays, who even reads comic strips anymore? Let alone the original Charles Schultz strips?

The animated specials have always been dreadfully done. The illustration work was cheap, poorly planned and rushed. Schultz himself hated the way his work was butchered. That's how you end up with this abomination of color and slapdash arrangement:


Here, at random, is an actual comic strip. I know, I know. What the hell is this thing? Why is so good but so wrong?


The strip you see above is a casual masterpiece of planning and layout, inking and lettering, and it works because it follows basic storytelling techniques. Two pointed questions, a moment of contemplation, and a result that renders the rhetorical questions as exclamations of doubt and misery. It is the strip as it was meant to be--sullen, pissed off, and darkly philosophical. It was a fuck you to everything sunny and warm. It was as if a misanthrope with too much time on his hands decided to shit on someone's porch and set it on fire, along with the Cathy and Garfield strips that accompanied the gift.

Whatever they're doing to destroy the legacy of Peanuts is fine by me. There are no sacred cows and Schultz was about making money, hand over fist. His heirs are going to cash in on whatever they can cash in on, no matter what. We may someday see a Southpark crossover movie with the Peanuts characters done out in construction paper and felt.

If you want the joy of reading the actual work, get those damned expensive coffee table books and shut the hell up. Complaining about the greed of cheap animation is like getting mad because that Transformers movie looks fakey.