Book Review - The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials
The Peanuts TV specials and the movies were made by a trio who became close friends and worked together for 35 years: Charles Schulz (known as “Sparky” to everyone), the writer and artist of the newspaper strip, who came up with or approved the concepts for the films; Lee Mendelson, the executive producer of the films (who wrote the Foreword to this book); and Bill Melendez, the head of the Bill Melendez Productions animation studio and director of most of the films. When Schulz died in 2000, the other two developed future specials upon story sequences from the newspaper strip, so they were still Schulz’s concepts. Melendez died in 2008. The only special since then was the 2011 Happiness is a Warm Blanket, co-written by Schulz’s son Craig Schulz with newspaper strip creator Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), based upon two early 1960s sequences from the Peanuts strip, and animated by the WildBrain studio which sent much of the animation to South Korea for production. “Some of the animation was done in the United States […] But one reason the directors agreed to work on the project was to get the chance to animate the characters they had watched and loved for so many years.” (p. 45)
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation is broadly divided into two sections. From the Strip to the Screen, the Introduction (which is only a page or two in most books), is forty-two pages. Most of Solomon’s narrative history of the specials is here, as are photographs of the lead creators and the production crew, publicity art, music record jackets, and the like. Practically all the information on Vince Guaraldi’s jazz music for the first specials is here. The rest of the book, over a hundred pages, is devoted to the visuals of the specials, presented by decade: The ‘50s and ‘60s; The ‘70s; The ‘80s; The ‘90s; and After Sparky: 2000 & Beyond. These are predominantly illustrations; concept art, production sketches, shooting scripts, model sheets, background paintings, and production cels. There are a bibliography and an index.
Will there be further specials? “Although all the participants agree that future animation projects are possible, everyone expresses concern about preserving the integrity of Schulz’s legacy.” (p. 46) Craig Schulz feels like the keeper of a flame that is slowly guttering out, and worries that future producers interested only in cashing in on the popularity of the Peanuts franchise will not understand or care about Schulz’s integrity. “‘I think it’s sad for the family to see that happen, but the reality is, my dad’s gone. It’s been ten years, but the public still loves his work.’” (ibid.)
Considering the popularity of the Peanuts animation on TV and in DVDs, and the dearth of printed information about them, The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation: Celebrating Fifty Years of Television Specials is one book that animation fans and public libraries have to have!
Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945). He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom. He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996. A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at email@example.com.