lördag 4 juni 2011

Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

If you turn a comic strip into an animated movie, and then the animated movie into a "graphic novel", what the heck will you end up with?

OK, so animated movie versions of comic strips aren't always so hot. They frequently suffer from timing and pacing issues, and perhaps the characters don't sound quite the way they do in your head when you read the strip, etc, etc. In short, there are problems with turning a comic strip into film, and the Peanuts films of yesteryear certainly weren't perfect – although it was Peanuts, so of course I watched them if I had the opportunity.

Anyway, if you turn a comic strip into an animated movie, and then the animated movie into a "graphic novel", what the heck will you end up with? Answer: a surprisingly enjoyable read. Kudos to Stephan Pastis and Craig Schulz, who did the adaptation, and Vicki Scott, Bob Scott and Ron Zorman, who did the art. (Oh, and the colors by Brian Miller work well, too.)

Now, keep in mind that this isn't exactly original material. The film is based on Peanuts strips, and being a fan since the age of about five I've read basically all of them (and the majority of them more than a few times each...), so with each page of this "graphic novel" consisting of one or two jokes from the strips or Sunday pages, there wasn't much to surprise me... but the jokes were so strong to begin with that they survive the transition (at least for me, who still have the impact of the original strips very much alive in my memory).

The story is basically about how Linus needs to kick his blanket habit, because first of all, his blanket-hating grandma is coming to visit, and, second and more importantly, it irks Lucy. Various attempts to curb the blanket habit are made, all of them failing. Interspersed with this are scenes from a) Lucy's unsuccessful attempts to get Schroeder to reciprocate her love for him, b) Schroeder only caring about his music and Beethoven, c) Snoopy and his food issues, d) Sally's unrequited love for Linus, e) Charlie Brown's insecurity and inability to fly a kite, f) Pig-Pen's inability to achieve anything even resembling cleanliness.

Finally, after another of Snoopy's many attempts to steal Linus' blanket ends in calamity for everybody, the gang confronts Linus and lets him know that they're not at all happy about his addiction to that blanket. Linus responds with a quite stirring speech about how yes, he is dependent on his blanket, but don't they all have various hangups, and who are they to tell him the he has to give up his?

This speech is basically the only thing I don't remember having already read in the strip, and if that was added by scriptwriters Pastis and Schulz, then they should be commended for tying what is really a rather disparate collection of anecdotes into what becomes a story that actually works, thanks to that speech – and the surprising revelation of one member of the Peanuts crew who isn't a neurotic. Can you guess who? (Well, you're going to have to, because I don't want to give it away. The writers did a good job on this dénouement, so they deserve getting readers coming into it with open minds uncontaminated by spoilers in reviews.)

For $20, you get 80 well-drawn pages that work surprisingly well, drawn in a 60's Schulz style (I imagine it's easier to create fluidity of motion in that style than in Schulz' later art style), with some 80 or so Peanuts jokes, plus a good conclusion. It was worth it for me, because I'm a Peanuts fanatic and the dollar price is currently rather low relative to the Swedish Krona. If you think it's worth it for you too, you'll get a bonus of a half-dozen pages of character sheets and other background material done for the movie.

Well, I'm recommending it, anyway. Schulz was one of the truly great comics artists, and it's nice to see his legacy kept alive in a manner that is faithful to the spirit of his work.

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