The first full trailer for the new 3-D, CGI Peanuts movie surfaced online this week, and the reaction was the same as it was to the teaser: Thousands of nearly unanimous voices suddenly cried out at once, “Good grief!” The Week calls the new trailer “distressingly unfaithful,” iO9 notes that it “feels wrong,” and Indiewire lifted its fists toward the heavens, lamenting, “20th Century Fox, what have you done.” Vulture, meanwhile, compared the idea of CGI Peanuts to “emoji Guernica, or dubstep Mozart.” (Some Slate writers made their complaints more direct.)
My fondness for dubstep Mozart aside, the problem with all this handwringing is pretty simple: It tends to presume that the Peanuts have one Edenic incarnation whose integrity and purity is still around to be ruined. Boy is that wrong.
In reality, our beloved Snoopy, Lucy, and the gang have evolved quite a lot since they first appeared, and along the way they have been subjected to innumerable indignities far worse than a trailer soundtracked by Flo Rida. To understand why no one should worry about the new 3-D, CGI Peanuts, let’s take a short tour of the Peanuts history hall of horrors.
Consider, just to start, the endless merchandising. According to Maclean’s, Charles Schulz’s income from Peanuts and related merchandising amounted to more than $1 billion, and it hasn’t all been so tasteful and dignified as your yellow zig-zag t-shirt. Could I interest you in a Snoopy toilet brush? How about a video game? Peanuts characters have starred in games for NES, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Playstation 2, PC, XBOX 360, and iPad, many of which have long featured them in 3-D.
In fact, the first time the Peanuts characters were ever animated was for a commercial for the Ford Motor Company. “What’s the occasion?” Lucy asked in the ad, “Has Charlie Brown had another baby sister?” “No, Ford has new economy twins,” Linus responded. They weren’t even trying to disguise the shilling. “Do you realize that the Falcon has become America’s largest-selling compact car?” Charlie Brown asks Lucy in another ad.
This, of course, was only the beginning of Charlie and his friends’ work as paid spokespeople. They’ve since lent their images to advertisements for products including Regina Carpet Cleaners, Chex Mix, Dolly Madison Zingers, MetLife Insurance, Cheerios, and Shell Oil.
Perhaps you already knew all this but thought, “Surely the animated specials are still timeless, right?” After all, who could forget such holiday classics as It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, a real movie that exists. It’s Arbor Day, by the way, is far from the worst special. For that, I give you It’s the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown, a special that seems to have existed just so Charles Schulz could give a starring role to his daughter, Jill. If you thought 3-D, CGI Peanuts was bad, you should get a load of their adventures in the world of live-action, with Snoopy’s brother Spike.
As bad as It’s the Girl in the Red Truck is, my favorite terrible Peanuts special is It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. If you haven’t put it together from the title, Flashbeagle was the Flashdance-inspired movie that starred Snoopy in the Jennifer Beals role, complete with lots of disco and breakdancing. Behold the timelessness of Peanuts’ primetime specials, strutting around with its paws in orange legwarmers.
At least specials like It’s the Girl in the Red Truck and Flashbeagle reflected Schulz’s vision (to the extent that that’s always a good thing), but the new Peanuts movie won’t be the first made without him and key collaborators like Bill Melendez. 2011’s Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, the 45th special, was made without most of the original creators and was reportedly terrible.
There is some good news in all this. If the new CGI Peanuts is great, then they will become as classic in pixels as they once became in their new animated incarnation. If it’s terrible, everyone will forget it, just like they have apparently forgotten almost every other terrible Peanuts product.