Book Review - The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials, by Charles Solomon. Foreword by Lee Mendelson. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, November 2012, hardcover $45.00 (192 pages).
This coffee-table art book differs significantly from other coffee-table art books on the making of an animated film. They are about single features, are published at the time of the film’s release, and are made with full access to all of the production graphics. The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation covers forty-five TV specials and theatrical features produced over a forty-six-year period, from 1965 to 2011. It necessarily contains less about any particular Peanuts TV or theatrical film, but it is an excellent overview of the entire series.
Charles Solomon says in the Acknowledgments, “When Emily Haynes called to suggest this book, I was surprised to discover how little has been written about the beloved Peanuts specials. I grew up watching them, as did almost everyone I know.” (p. 190) So did today’s notable animation and comic book producers whom Solomon quotes throughout this book. “Jef Mallett, the creator of the comic strip Frazz, says, ‘The Peanuts specials were your indication that the holidays had arrived. When It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown  and A Charlie Brown Christmas came on, you knew the holiday season had arrived, and it was a very happy time indeed.’
“Pete Docter, the Oscar-winning director of Monsters, Inc. and Up, agrees. ‘The two I always tried to see were the Christmas special and It’s the Great Pumpkin. They would be on at set times, and I demanded my parents rearrange our social calendar so we could be home then. Because they were just on once, then you had to wait until next year.’” (pgs. 11-12)
Other industry notables discuss technical or creative aspects of the specials, not just once but many times throughout the book. “Pixar story artist Jeff Pidgeon comments, ‘A strength of the strip has always been that it presented very sophisticated ideas and points of view in a very simple way, and the specials reflect that beautifully. Mendelson and Melendez were really great not to let their egos get in the way. They let the strip maintain its character, its integrity, and its approach in animation.’” (p. 12) Some of the many other notables who express their admiration for the specials are Pixar director Andrew Stanton, director of The Simpsons Movie David Silverman, Disney animators and art directors Eric Goldberg, Dave Pruiksma, Dale Baer, and Paul Felix, and newspaper cartoonists Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts).
Schulz and Melendez are dead now. Bill Littlejohn, a lead animator on the series, was interviewed just before he died. Solomon quotes at length many of the surviving crew, from Phil Roman, the director of 14 of the specials, to background artist Dean Spille, then-child voice actors Sally Dryer and Stephen Shea, and background music composer Dave Benoit. It is evident from their commentary that working on the Peanuts specials was not just another animation-industry job to them; it was a pleasure.