The Peanuts Movie • Most Faithful Reboot Ever?

A year ago, when the Peanuts trailer was first released, I wrote some thoughts about what I hoped the filmmakers would do, and what they would avoid. I’m so pleased to hear that we seemed to have been on the same page about what a film like this should be, as the consistent reports about the movie indicate that the movie is a love letter to Charles Schultz, and not simply a crass attempt to cash in on the reboot craze.

The movie open here in China this weekend, so I hope to take my kids to see it, and help the producers bump up their international box office by a few yen.  Meanwhile, I thought I’d repost what I wrote a year ago.

November 20, 2014


This one is really, really interesting to me.  Like a gazillion other folks out there my age, I amassed stacks of Peanuts books growing up, and read them over and over and over again.  As a somewhat shy kid with self-confidence issues, I identified with Charlie Brown and the problems he faced.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if I could have become a part of any children’s literature at the time, I would have grown a round head and jumped into the panels of Charles Schultz’s world.

When Blue Sky Studios (the guys behind the Ice Age and Rio movies) announced that they were going to be making a new Peanuts animated feature, with CGI, I was initially pretty skeptical.  You could wallpaper your house with the bad reviews of bad movies that decent filmmakers have made from fantastic properties that I grew up with:  Transformers 1,2,3 & 4, Scooby Doo, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Smurfs, Smurfs 2, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Superman Returns,  Knight Rider, The A-Team, Charlie’s Angels, Get Smart, The Pink Panther, Robocop

…the depressing and continually growing list represents a non-stop assault by lazy Hollywood producers on the pop culture treasures of my childhood.

Given, there have been some successful reboots/reimaginings:  Battlestar GalacticaThe Muppets (edit: when I wrote this, I meant the Muppet movie reboots – not the current ABC Muppets show, which, while funny, is NOT the Muppets), Star Trek, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, the recent Planet of the Apes movies, James Bond, to name a few.  And while they prove that it can be done, they are the exception to the rule.

And now we have Peanuts up next on the horizon.  And I have hope that it will be an exception.

The two things that gives me hope about this film are this:

A)  The studio

If you go to the Blue Sky Studios website and look at the films they have released, they are almost all good movies.  The one exception was the underwhelming Rio 2, which I forgot right after watching it.  However, they did well with the Ice Age franchise, and have several other good standalone movies under their belt.  Peanuts is in good hands with this studio.

2)  The Creative Team

Peanuts has a strong animation-experienced director in Steve Martino (Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age: Continental Drift) and Charles Schultz’s son and grandson are sharing screenwriting credits with newcomer Cornelius Uliano.  Also, I was totally stoked to see that Christophe Beck (one of my absolute favorite movie score composers) is doing the soundtrack.  Hopefully, this creative team will seek to stay true to the spirit of the original stories, and not try to reimagine Peanuts for a new generation to the point of getting rid of everything that made Peanuts special and timeless in the first place.

That leads me to the message I would communicate to the creative team if I had the opportunity:


Yes, I’m suggesting that they should keep the film in the 60’s – 70’s era.  No cell phones, no internet, no Facebook references, no hip lingo or jokes about celebrities, no setting in modern-looking neighborhoods.  Keep the music reminiscent of the jazzy style of Vince Guaraldi, as well as orchestral music – but no pop songs by One Direction or Christina Aguilera or some other teeny bopper music group that would plant the movie firmly in the 2014’s.

Go CGI all you want, and make it fun and funny for the kids!   But remember that the setting and the score are characters into themselves, and if they aren’t there, they will be missed as much as Linus or Schroeder.

At least by 40-something guys like me that grew up with Peanuts.

Now, I started all this saying that I was excited to find the release of the new Peanuts trailer, and so, without further ado…

The Redemption of Eustace Scrubb

Art by Jonathan Mayer

Art by Jonathan Mayer

I just took my fifth grade students for a voyage on the Dawn Treader, and I have to confess something that might be shocking to those who are familiar with what I consider to be the best book in the series.

I love Eustace Scrubb.

Yes, he is irritating, shrill, mean-spirited, spiteful, and if I had I had a student like Scrubb in my fifth grade class, I would likely duct-tape him to the wall even if it cost me my job. He might just be the most infuriating young character in all of children’s literature, but God help me, I love the kid, and have for a long time.

There. I’ve said it, and I feel better.

scan0003kk6There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. 

C.S. Lewis opens the novel by rapping us on the forehead and firmly saying, “You must not like this boy!” just in case we have any inclination to give Scrubb the benefit of the doubt. Lewis then goes on to paint a picture of just how bloody awful the kid is.

First, Scrubb is horrible to our two favorite Pevensies: the ever-patient Lucy and the just-barely-not-irritating-himself Edmund. He teases them about their talk of Narnia that he believes to be make-believe, and Lewis holds nothing back, telling us that Scrubb “was far too stupid to make anything up himself.” (I love it, Clive! Love it!)

Narnia3-1Second, Scrubb disrespects the ‘cheep. Reepicheep, among the most beloved of all the Narnian characters, one of the last characters you would want to disrespect, and Scrubb thinks it a funny idea to grab the mouse by the tail and swing him about like a rag doll. Of course, Reepicheep quickly and effectively lets the boy know that he is not a mouse to be trifled with, but the damage to his honor was already done.

And the list of irritants grows. Scrubb can’t be given away at a slave market because of his complaining, he constantly grumbles about the lack of a British Consul in Narnia, he keeps the whiniest diary in the history of diaries, he attempts to steal from the ship’s water supplies, and he calls the King of Narnia an idiot.

Despicable. The kid is absolutely despicable. And yet he is one of my favorites. Am I pathetic? Do I just have bad taste in literary characters? Does insanity run in my family?

To understand why I’m so drawn to Eustace Scrubb, you have to understand Narnia. And to understand Narnia, you have to attempt to understand the Creator of Narnia, and I don’t mean Clive Staples. Of course, I’m referring to the lion. The great lion. The King of the Beasts, and the real ruler of Narnia.


“Aslan and Lucy” by Justin Sweet


Does the name bring out some emotion when you read it? It does for me, which is surprising, because it’s just a name, and a name of a fictional character at that. But the name represents someone so incredibly wonderful that when I read it – it brings out a mixture of hope, joy, and awe.

Bernth Uhno Aslan_sings_out_Narnia_1980Aslan created Narnia, as we read about in The Magician’s Nephew, the first book in the series (chronologically), and so everything in the country obeys him, and plays by his rules. Reading the series, you find that his influence doesn’t end at Narnia’s borders, but extends into our own world, where he can choose to bring people to Narnia.

I wonder how many people (children and adults alike) have wished to be transported from our world to Narnia in the 64 years since the first book was published? Millions, I would guess. I know I have. I’ve spent countless hours sitting in front of wardrobes longing for the back to open up and allow me passage. A student at my school painted a picture of a ship at sea and each time I pass the picture, I imagine it flooding the hallways with water and sucking me into the Great Eastern Ocean.

Photo on 5-7-14 at 2.21 PMBut here’s the thing. I can stare all day at the wardrobe, and touch the painting longing for wetness, and it won’t matter. We can wish all we want, but the only way we would ever be brought to Narnia would be if it were Aslan’s will.

And this brings me back to Eustace Scrubb, and the question that is raised when you consider his awfulness. Why in the world would Aslan will for such a beastly boy to be brought into the country that he created? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Aslan brought Eustace into Narnia so that Eustace could come to know him, and in coming to know him in Narnia, he could also come to know him back in our world.

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” 


Comfort Before The Sacrifice by Nicholas Jackson

Comfort Before The Sacrifice by Nicholas Jackson

And as we see time and again in the Chronicles, you can’t know the Great Lion without being changed for the better.  Even the White Witch, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is afraid to be in the same place as Aslan without having him tied down and completely submissive, which could only happen if Aslan permitted it to happen, and even then she fools herself into thinking that she is in control of the situation.

But what about Scrubb?  He’d heard about Aslan while on the Dawn Treader, but had hated the name, as he’d hated everything that was happening to him from the moment he’d been sucked in through the picture on his bedroom wall.

But he had been sucked in for a reason – to know Aslan.

As a boy, Eustace burned people with his words and his bad attitude, and so Aslan permitted him to be transformed into a literal beast, because really, that’s what he was anyway.  What was the purpose?  Because Eustace needed to see himself for what he really was, so that he could see his need for change, and see that he was incapable of changing on his own.

And this is it – the crux of the matter – and why I love the character so much.  Because Eustace is me.  I am him.  We are one and the same.  If you peel away my skin and get a good look at what lies just beneath the surface, you’ll see pure unadulterated ugliness.  Dig in deep and you’ll find that greed, lust, selfishness, drunkenness, ignorance, laziness, unfaithfulness, will all come oozing out from the deepest and darkest parts of my being.

Dig in deep and you’ll see that I am a person in desperate need of Narnia.

Narnia_VerA1I don’t need Narnia because it would be cool to see a faun or a giant.  I don’t need Narnia because it’s a place untouched by modernity and technology.  I don’t need Narnia because it would help me return me to magic and hope, as the movie adverts say.

I need Narnia because I need the one who will look past all of my mistakes and pay more attention to my potential.  I need  Narnia because I need the one who will care enough about me to allow me experience adversity, pain, and conflict so that I will remember that I need him.  I need Narnia because I need the one who is willing to undergo humiliation and suffering to make certain that I don’t have to, and who does it because of his love for me.

In short, like Eustace, I need Aslan.

Like Eustace, like Edmund, like Peter, like Susan, like Diggory, like Jill, like Caspian, like Mr. Tumnus, like the Beavers, like Reepicheep, like Polly, like Tirian, like Trumpkin, like Frank, like Strawberry, like Helen, like Puddleglum, like Prince Rillian, like Puddleglum, like Lucy, and a whole host of others…

I need Aslan.

And so I love Eustace Scrubb.  I love him because I see myself in him so very clearly.  I love him because he represents the hope in me that although I am so very flawed, there is someone who loves me in spite of myself.  There is someone who wants to make certain that I don’t remain flawed, but that I draw closer to him, so that I can become more like him.

And with all due respect to Mr. Liam Neeson, the name of Aslan – the name of the one who C.S. Lewis was hoping that we would find when we returned from our adventures in Narnia with the great lion – that name is not up for grabs.