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Interview: We chat with Blue Sky lead animator Jeff Gabor about ‘The Peanuts Movie’

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Following our exclusive chat with the voice of the Little Red Haired Girl, Francesca Capaldi, we jumped on the blower with lead animator of Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie, Jeff Gabor to find out why on earth they’re making a Peanuts movie so many years after the original cartoon series.

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What was it about the story of Snoopy and Charlie Brown that made you want to make a new movie?

I wanted to jump on the movie as soon as possible because of how much I loved the cartoon series as a kid – especially the Halloween special – so they announced the movie in a studio meeting and I begged to get on it as fast as possible. That way I could dive in and get learning. It was pretty exciting at the beginning, that’s for sure.

What do you think sets this new movie apart from the previous cartoon series?

I definitely think adding the 3D element is going to stand as a huge difference for sure so hopefully we’re just going to take what’s been done before and add a small little twist with the 3D element to make it hopefully relatable with the audiences of today and really introduce the characters to a new generation. We’re just trying to stay true to the characters and storytelling, it’s much more about introducing Snoopy and Charlie Brown to a new audience, not making something completely different or brand new.

What do you think makes it is about Snoopy and Charlie Brown that makes them so well loved to people older and younger?

There are so many reasons why Snoopy and Charlie Brown are loved by old and young alike. Of course it starts with the comics for the older generations, and that love is passed down, and shared with the younger generations. Whether its reading the comics together, or enjoying the holiday specials together. There’s just something so relatable and charming about the Peanuts universe. The characters’ depth, humor, and commentary is just as valid today as it was when Sparky started to pen the strip.

How long does it take to make a movie of this scale from start to finish?

It takes years, and years, and years to complete a movie at this scale! I was one of the lead animators on this film and jumped on the project nearly 3 years ago to get a head start on Snoopy, but the project was in the works long before I jumped on board. To create the story, develop the models, create the rigs, animate the characters, light the film, create the music…well it’s a marathon for sure.

Charlie Brown first fell in love with the little red haired girl in 1963, why do you think over 50 years later, their love story is still a tale of unrequited love?

The story of unrequited love for the Little Red Haired Girl was a story that was personal to Sparky, but that doesn’t make it any less relatable for every audience member. That sense of longing is on one hand so heart-breaking, and yet at the same time, filled with comedy. Its a story that can’t change or be altered because it speaks to the very core of how we relate to Charlie Brown. He’s that loveable loser that we find ourselves relating to in our sad moments, and watching Charlie Brown experience unrequited love make us not feel alone.

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Do you think there’s anything Charlie can do to win her over?

I’m not sure if there is anything that Charlie Brown can do to necessarily win her over. The easy response is to say Charlie Brown can just be himself, but the lesson is that sometimes things just don’t go your way, in spite of being yourself, and that’s okay. It’s okay for Charlie Brown to long for someone, or something, and not get it. How does it play out in the Peanuts Movie? I’d hardly want to spoil that for anyone.

It’s been revealed that Snoopy will go up against his nemesis Red Baron in this movie. Can you give us any hints as to what could come from that?

Oh yeah, I’ve been intimately involved with the Snoopy and Red Baron sequences. I can say we are certainly taking Snoopy’s imagination to new heights and playing with his imagination in ways audiences haven’t experienced before. This is the one area we took full advantage of our new technology to push Snoopy’s long time battle to new places. You’ll feel his world be more dynamic, more tangible than that of Charlie Brown’s world and truly be the fantasy adventure we’ve been waiting to see for Snoopy.

If you could have any celebrity come on board and voice a character from the movie, which celebrity would you pick and which character would you give them?

Oh man, our wish came true! We were able to use all the original recordings Bill Melendez did for Snoopy. How amazing is that?! So much of Snoopy’s comedy and appeal that sprung out of those original cartoon specials came from the voice acting of Bill Melendez, and to be able to use the exact same voice is a privilege. Bill was so vital to the success of those original specials, and that saying he simply voiced Snoopy and Woodstock doesn’t do his name justice, but I can’t think of a cooler way of honoring his contribution to the world of Peanuts than by making sure his voice found its way into the Peanuts Movie.

We’ve also spoken to Francesca Capaldi who is playing the Little Red Haired Girl. What has she been like to work with?

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any experience working alongside Francesca since my work really only revolved around Snoopy, but I can say I’ve heard her performance, and it comes across as sincere, charming, and perfectly Peanuts.

Finally, do you have any tips for budding animators?

Study, study, and study some more. Study the world around you. Study the way people walk, talk, mow their lawn, order their coffee. Draw constantly and turn to a mentor when it comes down to learning the specific techniques of animation. Pick up the bibles of animation, The Illusion of Life, and The Animator’s Survival Kit… and then… study, study, study some more.

Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie is in cinemas this December

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Written by Oliver Meakings

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