Not what I was expecting...but quite nice. Warner Premiere Digital has released the Peanuts Motion Comics Collection, a 20 mini-episode gathering of "motion comic" digital shorts that Warner Bros. produced and released (first on iTunes) in 2008. Based on the original cartoon strips by Charles Schulz, these "motion comics" aren't any more "limited" in their animation than the average Cartoon Network offering, so don't let the "motion comic" tag fool you with these simple but sharply-rendered widescreen offerings.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the Peanuts Motion Comics Collection, going over Schulz and his comic (I would imagine most people are familiar with his work, at the very least). My understanding of a "motion comic," prior to watching this collection, was that it was a photographed static comic panel given "motion" by camera movement, with sound and music added (and in this case, color, too). And quite honestly, I wasn't too sure I'd like that within the Peanuts context. I grew up reading Peanuts every day in the newspaper, as well as trolling my library for Schulz compilations (nothing like the Sunday comics spread out on the floor). Reading a "comic" is one experience, and watching one of the Schulz holiday animated shorts is another...but a "motion comic" as described above seemed like the least of both worlds. Luckily, that's not the case with the Peanuts Motion Comics Collection. The shorts are certainly animated in the traditional way we experience them. It's clearly "limited" animation, to be sure (maybe even "severely limited"), with many static shots and nothing fancy in the way of character action, but it doesn't look any less "animated" than say, Regular Show.
And in anamorphically enhanced widescreen, the digital perfection of the animation is quite pleasing, with the simplified characters and backgrounds rendered in eye-popping primary colors (Studio B Productions is listed as the animation service). There are no writer credits on these shorts, so I assume all the words are directly from Schulz's original strips, which are identified from the year 1964 (I can't see a modern writer making a New York Mets' Casey Stengel reference for today's kids). And all the Schulz preoccupations are here: baseball, unrequited love, the terror of contemplating life's terrors (remember when you were a kid and thought Peanuts was drawn just for kids?). Good background music from Randall Crissman reminds us of the classic Peanuts sound from Vince Guaraldi, while the voice work of the kids (you never know these days; it could be adult voice artists) is quite good, too―expressive, sweet, never overdone or grating.
Brad Gibson and Jayson Thiessen are listed as directors here, and to their credit, these little limited animation shorts are guided in a fresh, spirited tone. At about 3.5 minutes per "episode," with several short strips animated per episode, each strip only lasts about 30 seconds on screen. Ironically, those short little bursts of Schulz humor (and underlying pathos and angst) mirror nicely the experience of reading one of the original strips, so it's perfect for little kids whose attention spans may wander, as well as for adults who may want to peek in and catch a few, much as we do when we scan the comics at breakfast or on a coffee break. Labeling these little shorts "motion comics" may be technically correct, but I hope it doesn't turn off potential viewers and Schulz fans who may miss out here, thinking these shorts are nothing more than "comics with radio."
The 20 episodes of the Peanuts Motion Comics Collection are:
I'm New at It
The Sore Arm
A Fall Rain
Dear Santa Claus
The Good Brother
All Your Faults
Linus for President
Back on the Mound
Dear Great Pumpkin
The Science Project
Crabby Little Girl
Ready to Pitch
Digitally perfect. The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfers are super sharp, with eye-popping colors and no compression issues.
The Dolby Digital English Surround stereo mix is surprisingly hefty for these little toons, with not much rear speaker action, but some nice separation effects left and right. Crystal clear. No subtitles or close-captions, though.
If the words "motion comics" makes you think this is going to be Ken Burns Meets Peanuts, relax―these tiny little shorts are animated as much as anything else on TV today. They're quite fun, too, with Charles Schulz's original strip ideas intact, executed simply and with bounce. I'm highly recommending the Peanuts Motion Comics Collection.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.