Today: May 30, 2024

Craig Schulz On The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie is the first big state of the art 3D, animated movie, based on the iconic comic strip by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. The funny and heartwarming adventure, features all the familiar characters from the strip. We meet the hapless but ever optimistic Charlie Brown is best friend, Snoopy, and a newcomer to the neighborhood, the Little Red-Haired Girl, who inspired Charlie to embark on a heroic quest.

The late artist’s son Craig Schulz wrote and produced the 3D film with his own son, Bryan. FilmJuice chatted to Craig about growing up with a famous father and the evolution of this most personal of film projects.

Craig, this room is full of fascinating historic artifacts, books, toys and cartoons, can you describe where we are?
“We are at number 1 Snoopy Place, which is right across the road from the ice arena that my mom and dad built back in 1969. Right behind me is the desk where my father drew his comic strips every day for years and years. He had a standard ritual: he would come here in the morning, go through the mail, walk over to the ice arena and have breakfast; then he’d come back here and work until four in the afternoon, and then he would go home.”

Of course Charles M. Schulz, known as ‘Sparky’, was your dad first and foremost. But what was it like being the son of a legend?
“I didn’t have any other father so it’s hard to say what it was like compared to anybody else, but for all of us children, it was sort of like Disneyland. We had 28 acres in Sebastopol (Northern California). We had horses, cows, ducks and goats. We had a baseball field and a golf course and I rode motorcycles. It was a terrific lifestyle and we had a wonderful time. On the other hand, living with all that day in, day out, I wanted to leave and go hang out with my friends at their houses. I thought that was more fun than hanging out at my house, like any kid!”

What made you decide to write The Peanuts Movie with your son?
“After my dad passed on in 2000, we had numerous requests, people calling up asking if we (the family) would be interested in doing a movie. In my family we had always decided we’d probably never do a feature film, because we didn’t think the risk was worth the reward. But time passed and we started thinking about the possibility.”

What can you reveal about the plot?
“I can tell you one thing, it’s about a kid with a big head and his little fluffy dog (laughs)! What I’d like to say is that it’s true to my dad’s work. We see the relationship between Charlie Brown and Snoopy, how one feeds off the other, Snoopy can learn from Charlie Brown and Charlie Brown can learn from Snoopy. Their relationship is intertwined throughout the movie. I think the greatest thing about the movie is that children and adults can relate to it.”

What has been your experience of collaborating with Blue Sky Studios and director Steve Martino?
“We knew from Blue Sky’s achievements with the Ice Age films that they would do a great job. Our movie was going to take place in the wintertime. We knew we had to deal with snow and ice and water, and who better than Blue Sky to do that? On top of that, we met Steve Martino and he was a Godsend, because he was fanatical about using the comic strip and my dad’s line as the basis of this movie. Blue Sky were fantastic. Whenever they had a question, they always went back to the comic strip and pulled from it. They did extensive research; they spent over a year just trying to get Charlie Brown to look right. The details are great. Whether you look at the clouds or the snow or the buildings, they’re all basically my dad’s line.”

How does the film remain faithful to your dad’s work and how has it lifted his stories off the page?
“Well I think it’s done it on multiple levels. I will say that there’s nobody who is more protective of my dad’s legacy than myself and I’ve passed that onto my son. During this process, his admiration for his grandfather has grown tremendously. On the animation side, Steve made sure this film was done right. Every animator that came onto the project had to go to what they called ‘Van Pelt University’, which entailed a week’s training on how to draw these characters.”

Can you discuss Snoopy and his role in the film?
“I think Snoopy is like all of us, or what we would like to be. He lives the dream life. All he’s got to do is sit on his doghouse and sleep all day long. He gets food brought to him every night.  And in the meantime he lives his fantasies. In this film we see Snoopy driven into this fantasy world of the ‘Flying Ace’ [the character he imagines himself as when he is fighting the Red Baron]. The story revolves around a couple of origin stories. For the first time, Snoopy takes out the typewriter and types. We see him typing in the comic strip but we never really know why that happens and in this movie it is explained. We know that for 50 years he’s been chasing the Red Baron and he’s never been able to catch him. The film explains why he’s chasing the Red Baron. The Red Baron was a real-life ace fighter pilot for Germany during World War I, labeled as the greatest aviator of World War I. He was a hero, not only to the Germans, but to the Americans, at the time. In the early parts of the war, the enemies would actually wave at each other and salute as they passed each other. It wasn’t until the war evolved that they became enemies. The Red Baron does something to Snoopy that makes him mad and we find out why.”

I believe we see and hear her in this movie –  we don’t in the comic strip …
“Yes she does appear. Initially we were never going to show her until the very end, and we didn’t want her to have any speaking lines, we wanted that to all be in the viewer’s imagination. But after we started putting the film together we realized that we needed to have her say something, so the audience understands what the girl is all about. It was a fine balance deciding how we’d bring her in. There is a beautiful scene when she arrives in the neighborhood and goes to school for the first time. She is a mysterious girl. Charlie Brown falls in love with her and tries to win her over.”

What was your father’s inspiration for the Little Red-Haired Girl?
“Well the original Little Red-Haired Girl was one of the loves of my dad’s life, a lady named Donna Johnson Wold from Minnesota. He had pursued her as a young man. He was very excited about selling his first comic strip and proposed to her. At the time though, she was in love with two people, my dad and somebody else, and she chose the fireman! But they remained friends for their whole lives actually. He wrote to her constantly and they’d converse. I actually got to meet her years later in Minnesota and it was wonderful.”

Why has your dad’s work had such an amazing response globally for so long?
“I think he touched on the human condition. If you look at almost all stand-up comics or any comics in fact, there’s always a dark spot in their lives from which they draw on for humor; you’ll find that almost universally among comics. My dad had some tragic moments in his life. He lost his mother just before he went off to World War II. Coming back, he had the high of selling the comic strip and then the low of proposing to the love of his life and being rejected. So there was a cycle of highs and lows and I think he drew upon that in his work. He also drew upon his ability to look at things from a slightly skewed angle. He could turn things and put a little twist on them. There was also his great vocabulary; he would always choose just the right word to create the fourth panel [in the comic strip] so to speak. He was a master at it. A lot of people have tried to duplicate that over the years and they haven’t been able to succeed.”

How did you and the rest of the family inspire your father’s work?
“I think he was very inspired by his children in the early years. If you study the comic strips, you realize that from the 50s to the 60s, he was coming of age and – and formulating the direction he wanted the comic strip to take, but from the 60s to the 70s, there’s a lot of influence from the children and from his marriage.”

Which character did you influence?
“The one he gives me credit for is Pigpen. There was one evening when I came to dinner and he looked at my hands and said: ‘Craig how did you get your hands so clean?’ I looked at him and said, ‘toothpaste.’ I had used toothpaste thinking it would really clean my hands. I was generally accepted as the Pigpen of the family. I was dirty pretty much my whole life. So I got credit for that one strip. My sister has credit for a couple of strips and generally speaking, we can see our childhood in those comic strips going through those years.”

How much do these characters come from your dad?
“He was definitely a mixture of all of them. We always say: Snoopy was who he wanted to be and Charlie Brown was who he really was. Poor Charlie Brown loses a lot but when you look at the reality of life we all lose a whole lot more than we ever win. Most of us have to learn how to put up with losing, and I think that’s why Charlie Brown’s so relatable.  He’s the great survivor.”

What have audiences got to look forward to with this film?
“Our hope is that we reinvigorate the new generation to read Peanuts and come back to the comic strip and embrace the values of these characters. Often these days there are not good messages in movies, as they get more edgy and racy. The nice thing about Peanuts is that as a parent, you know that you’re going to be in good hands.”

Peanuts has remained relevant for so long, do you think your father’s work is timeless?
“I think it will continue to be relevant. There is no chance of the interest slowing down. When A Charlie Brown Christmas first came out in 1965, the studio thought it was going to be a disaster. But there was one animator standing in the back of the room who said: ‘are you kidding me, this show’s going to run for a hundred years!’ Well, it’s been 50 years, so he’s halfway right! I think he is right. People see something in Peanuts that they identify with. In the movie, you see these kids in school, having to do homework, all the things that every kid can relate to, you really feel like you’re attached to them. It’s a group of kids you want to be around.”

SNOOPY AND CHARLIE BROWN: THE PEANUTS MOVIE is available to own on Digital HD™ on 13th May & on Blu-ray™ & DVD on 30th May, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.



Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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