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PREVIEW: 'The Peanuts Movie' continues Schulz legacy

When Peanuts originator Charles M. Schultz died in his sleep in 2000, part of his will stated that no new Peanuts comic strips would be drawn.

Newspapers honored his last wishes, although they continue to run reruns of his comic strip. Fortunately, “Sparky” Schultz (as he was known to his friends and loved ones) didn’t have any restrictions about Peanuts TV programs or movies, which he felt were “entirely separate” from the comic strip.

Perhaps that’s why his son, Craig Schulz, felt like it was okay to write a movie script, together with his son Bryan Schulz, and the younger Schulz’s writing partner, Cornelius Uliano. The three screenwriters serve as producers of “The Peanuts Movie,” which opens in theaters today.

Peanuts has been around for 65 years, and almost everyone remembers growing up with these heartwarming characters. There’s underdog Charlie Brown, who is meek, nervous and lacks self-confidence. He can’t fly a kite, win at baseball or even kick a football.

His sister Sally has a crush on Charlie’s blanket-toting friend Linus Van Pelt (whom she nicknames “Sweet Babboo”). Then there’s Linus sister, Lucy, who is a bossy, crabby girl who sometimes torments Charlie Brown, and has a crush on piano-playing Schroeder. Snoopy is Charlie Brown’s pet dog, and Peppermint Patty is a freckle-faced tomboy who loves Charlie Brown and calls him “Chuck.” Patty’s best friend is tomboy Marcie, whom Patty calls “Sir.”

Traditionally, the Peanuts comic strip and TV programs are in flat and minimalist drawings. The new Peanuts Movie marks the first time the gang appears in 3D animation.

“Charlie Brown gets referred to as a loser all the time,” said Craig Schulz, in the film’s production notes. “But in reality, Charlie Brown is a winner because he never gives up. We all lose a lot more than we win and who better than Charlie Brown to teach us that?”

Charlie Brown preserves through all of life’s trials and tribulations — including a kite-eating tree, a losing baseball streak or the blunt advice of Lucy Van Pelt.

“Charlie Brown’s eternal optimism gives us hope, and makes him relatable to readers all over the world,” Craig Schultz said.

Originally, the writers thought about focusing the story on Snoopy, with Charlie Brown relegated to a secondary storyline. But they quickly decided against that direction, knowing that too much of Snoopy could overpower the film’s narrative.

“My dad had that same problem with the comic strip,” Craig Schulz said. “He was constantly reining in Snoopy!”

To balance the story, the filmmakers decided to include the entire cast of Peanuts characters, including some of its lesser-known members.

“At its core, “The Peanuts Movie” is about everyday anxieties we encounter while growing up, going to school, and dealing with the perceptions people have about one another,” Craig Schulz said “We took that theme and changed the overall tone of the movie, which resulted in a stronger message, one that both adults and children can relate to.”

When the Peanuts comic strip completed its run in 2000, it had an estimated readership of more than 350 million, and appeared in 2,600 newspapers representing 21 countries around the world. With a combined grand total of 17,897 strips, each one drawn, inked and lettered by Schulz (15,391 daily; 2,506 Sunday), comic reprints continue in syndication, reaching new readers every day.

Now, that legacy continues with the return of the Peanuts gang to the big screen, in “The Peanuts Movie.”