Hail, hail, the Peanuts gang’s all here!
Edmund Silvestre, New York Correspondent (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Peanuts, the most famous and well-loved comic strip in America (and perhaps the world), is hitting the cinemas across the Philippines tomorrow, Jan. 8, with its creators hoping to win over a whole new generation of audiences not familiar with the beloved cartoon gang led by Charlie Brown and his equally popular sidekick dog, Snoopy.

The 20th Century Fox blockbuster flick — the strip’s fifth movie version and the first in 35 years — enjoyed a $45M opening weekend in the US and so far has reached $130M in domestic earnings alone (as of Jan. 3). It is presented by the Blue Sky Studios, the same outfit that created the hit animated feature films Ice Age and Rio.

The Philippine STAR was among the select foreign publications invited at the sprawling Blue Sky complex in Greenwich, Connecticut (nearly an hour drive from Manhattan), where director Steve Martino and a number of Harvard and Yale grad-looking artists and animators individually sat down with journalists to discuss the complexity of creating the stunning computer-generated movie, as well as their personal experiences in bringing the Peanuts gang back to theaters after more than three decades.

With its old-fashioned and feel-good story plus sophisticated animation, Peanuts’ arrival was like a breath of fresh air, with the movie-going public already saturated with special effects-laden, violent films involving aliens, dinosaurs, zombies, disasters and galactic creatures.

Although the forms of Peanuts characters’ look simple, the film’s aesthetics were actually more challenging and mind-boggling to make than Ice Age and Rio, according to the animators, who eagerly elaborated details of the movie’s technical aspects.

“It’s been a challenge to create a living, three-dimensional character from a 2D comic strip,” said art director Nash Dunnigan. “In fact, we spent over a year just to establish the look and feel of the characters.”

“We did a lot of trial and error,” he continued, “and we collectively knew when something was not all right. Snoopy alone has one of the most challenging expressions and aesthetics.”

Dunnigan pointed out that first and foremost in their minds was how to stay faithful to the original aesthetics of Peanuts’ late creator, the highly-revered cartoonist Charles M. Schultz.

For director Steve Martino, the biggest challenge was simply “not to screw it up.” And with the warm reception the movie got from fans and critics alike, Martino (who also directed Ice Age) and his team would make Schultz very, very happy.

“This is a movie experience. This is not just a TV special or some other form of animation,” said Martino, whose group had to develop a computer-generated animation technique that preserved the hand-drawn “soft-wiggle” pen of Schultz’s cartoon strips.

Even the voices of the characters were rendered by actual children, aged seven to 12, led by Noah Schnapp for Charlie and Hadley Belle Miller for Lucy.

Daniel Abramovich, a noted stereoscopic (3D) supervisor, gave The STAR a tour of the state-of-the-art theater-studio where the film’s three-dimensional world was developed.

“Do you know what a View Master is?” an excited Abramovich asked this writer, referring to the classic Mattel toy that fascinated generations of youngsters with its 3D wonder. “That’s how this movie looks like with a modernized feel that the background used in the scenes, such as panoramic landscapes, seem more real.”

“The movie is simple, but more stylized and very interesting,” he added.

Young animator Drew Winey admits the real challenge is how to impress the moviegoers, who have become more scrutinizing and discriminating.

“We gave this beloved franchise a new look, a fresh style,” said Winey, who brought this writer to his tropical paradise-themed office, with his desk and shelves surrounded by Peanuts characters.

“But more than its aesthetics and amazing 3D features, the young and old will fall in love with Charlie, Snoopy and the entire gang,” Winey said. “The film has tenderness and charm. Charlie, for one, thinks he’s a loser. He’s a loser in a loveable, charming way. He’s one of the best cartoon characters of all time.”

Both the young and young at heart will be able to identify with Charlie’s childhood emotional challenges, particularly his insecurities and low self-confidence, to his unrequited romantic obsession with “the Little Red-Haired Girl.” In the end, the audience will definitely cheer at how Charlie turns his perceived weaknesses into triumphant moments of his young life.

And not to be overlooked is everyone’s favorite, the scene-stealing Snoopy, who has a breathtaking must-see showdown with his nemesis, The Red Baron, as they battle in the skies in Snoopy’s fantasy world.

In this latest version of Peanuts, the never-before-seen (and only referred to in the classic comic strips) character of Snoopy’s love interest, the poodle Fifi, will finally make a debut — voiced by Hollywood and Broadway veteran Kristin Chenoweth.



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