Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation Review - It's a Great Book, Charlie Brown!

Peanuts, the acclaimed comic strip, TV specials, TV show and films stemming from the creative mind of Charles "Sparky" Schulz, is something I've always been aware of (who hasn't heard of Charlie Brown and Snoopy?) but never really known much about. Then, when the upcoming Blue Sky Studios adaptation was announced, I decided to try it out. I started on Halloween with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and, as you'd expect, I loved it. The charming characters and conscious script, the infectious music and great animation, there's little not to like about it.

It's a similar story to my experiences with Tintin: I'd heard of it, I'd never read or seen anything of it before though, then a big Hollywood version of it came along, and it caught my attention. I'm now an avid Tintin fan, and, after reading The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation, I think I'm on my way to becoming a Peanuts fan.

The book is written by Charles Solomon, a personal favourite author of mine, and one of the most thoroughly-researched and engaging animation historians about. Solomon previously wrote The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey, and The Art of Toy Story 3 - with the latter working very similarly to this book. What Solomon does so well is that he recounts the history of whatever he's writing about in such a detailed and enthralling way that novices will be engaged, and die-hard fans will learn things they didn't know.

The author's love of, and respect for, Peanuts is evident within the first hundred words or so. Solomon has clearly been a fan since an early age, and has clearly immersed himself in all there is to know about Peanuts when writing this book; the depth and the detail of it are phenomenal. It's a brilliant history of these iconic characters, detailing everything from Schulz' original comic strip, to getting A Charlie Brown Christmas made, all the way up to now, paying homage to all of the key players, with Schulz, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson getting a great deal of praise and adulation.

With an Art and Making of book, you never really know what you're getting: The Art and Making of ParaNorman mostly detailed the labour-intensive stop-motion process, whereas The Art and Making of Hotel Transylvania had very little Making included at all. But, with The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation, you get exactly what it says on the tin, a pretty much even focus on the Art and the Making Of.

The first 50 or so pages of the book are purely the history of Peanuts, there's the odd piece of production artwork, or the odd sketch, but the focus is on the text, and the detailed, thorough, and very accessible history of Peanuts, from the strip to the screen. Solomon's authorial flair and expertise shows, and he managed to enthral a relative novice like me with very little effort.

So that covers the Making part, but what about the Art? Well, rest assured, there's an absolute tonne of that too! Following the 50 page-ish "Introduction", we get about 150 pages just of art. There's introductory sections to key events, years or animated specials/features, but a large portion of the book is dedicated to highlighting the charming visual style the Peanuts artists crafted and maintain - although there's little artist accreditation, with most pieces citing "Artist unknown" . Although, the art is by and large used to illustrate how Schulz's vision was adapted and preserved for the screen, and the book often reads more like a biography of the Peanuts creator than the strip/specials - but it's still brilliant!

Big animation names offer up their thoughts on Peanuts.

The book boasts a great, personal, foreword by Lee Mendelson - and, thanks to Solomon's insightful book, I now know who he is! It's clear that Peanuts doesn't just mean a lot to Charles Solomon and Lee Mendelson though, as the book is jammed full of quotes from animation luminaries, from Eric Goldberg and Jeff Pidgeon, to Pixar directors Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, to Phineas and Ferb creators Jeff "Swampy" Marsh and Dan Povenmire, to frequent The Simpsons director David Silverman. Charlie Brown and his iconic beagle attract praise from all corners of the industry, and it's a very thoughtful and lovingly crafted book.

I really liked the section towards the end of the book, focusing on the lasting legacy of Peanuts, what it is without Charles Schulz (who died in 2000), and what it's worth to its millions of fans all over the world. It certainly provides a lot of food for thought with Blue Sky Studios' adaptation coming up soon.

The bottom line is this is a fantastic book: wonderfully prepared and set out, thoughtfully written, featuring lots of brilliant artwork, and with enough insight, praise and accessibility for people of all levels of fandom. Charles Solomon's The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation is a great book for animation fans.



Note, all images and artwork used here are property of Chronicle Books, Peanuts Worldwide LLC and any other respective owners, and are used here for illustrative purposes only and in accordance with the fair use policy of copyright law.

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