TORONTO — The world’s most beloved Beagle is carving out a new kennel in Canada.
After debuting “Snoopy in Space” on Apple TV Plus in late 2019, Halifax-headquartered media company WildBrain and its mostly all-Canadian team are now digging deeper into the late Charles M. Schulz’s comic strips with the newly launched “The Snoopy Show” and upcoming Peanuts gang specials for the streaming service.
Toronto-based showrunner Mark Evestaff says the projects are the first major Peanuts content to come out since “The Peanuts Movie” in 2015, and seemingly the first to be made in Canada.
The creators have worked closely with the Schulz family and his Creative Associates company in the U.S. to respect his classic works as the franchise establishes roots on this side of the border. That’s why viewers won’t see Snoopy and the gang using cellphones, for instance, or look much different than the simple line drawing of the comics.
“It was all inspired by going back to the strip and pulling out some stories and then talking about them,” he said in an interview. “And then of course, there’s artistic licence.
“As storytellers ourselves and fans, we want to remain loyal to the world that Mr. Schulz created. Of course we had to fill in some blanks, but it really was, ‘How would Mr. Schulz have approached this?’ And trying to be faithful to that world and to the characters.”
WildBrain, formerly DHX Media, became the majority owner of the Peanuts brand in 2017 and took a team to the Creatives Associates headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif., to discuss ideas and Schulz’s wishes for the future of the franchise.
“Charles Schulz’s office is still there and it’s still set up,” Evestaff said. “You can still see the worn-out places where he would have drawn these characters. Some of his pen nibs are there and some of the ink is there, and they preserved it. There’s a wonderful museum there that’s separate, and it was really humbling but very inspirational in terms of making the show.”
As per Schulz’s wishes, the team agreed to stick to tradition and not include modern technology in the Peanuts world of the animated family series.
“Snoopy still types on his old typewriter, they still use the old-school wired phones,” Evestaff said, noting viewers may also see an old TV here and there.
“It also keeps the kids outside all the time, so we didn’t even really find any instances where we needed to have some of the other technology.”
Both “The Snoopy Show,” which launched last month, and “Snoopy in Space,” which has been renewed for a second season, were developed and produced by WildBrain’s animation studio in Vancouver.
The voice artists are based in Toronto and have been recording there during the pandemic. Terry McGurrin voices Snoopy and Rob Tinkler performs his yellow feathered pal Woodstock.
To make the characters’ sounds, which range from Snoopy’s signature “bleah” to Woodstock’s high-pitched chirps, McGurrin and Tinkler use “a bit of audio magic” and a lot of physicality that’s “pretty weird” to witness in person, Evestaff said with a laugh.
“We bring them into the booth and they do ridiculous things with their voices, and then we treat them and play that back,” he said.
“If you were to walk in, you would certainly be surprised at what you’re hearing. They embody these characters, and you see it.”
Canadian composer Jeff Morrow creates the show’s score, staying true to its jazz origins and letting the musicians improvise a bit, which was also done on the original Peanuts specials.
“It is something that was important to us, was important to Jeff, and has made a huge difference in the show in terms of just having that free-flow feel in the show that is characteristically Peanuts,” said Evestaff.
Some of the Canadian creators are based in Los Angeles but jumped at the chance to work the series because it’s such a prestigious brand, Evestaff said.
In “The Snoopy Show,” viewers see the Peanuts world from the perspective of the dynamic dog’s overactive imagination and flights of fancy — from his persona as a flying ace, to that of a lawyer and Joe Cool.
As per the original Peanuts animation, when Snoopy is pretending to be a flying ace on top of his dog house, viewers never see the bottom of it, so it doesn’t ruin the fantasy.
Also like the original, the four weather seasons are an important part of the storytelling and design, which made Canada a perfect destination for the creation of such scenes.
“Being Canadian, there are lots of nods to hockey and figure skating and winter sports and snow and winter activities that we’re proud of, because it’s something that we know we can represent and be authentic,” Evestaff said.
“If someone’s taking a hockey shot, whether it’s a snap shot or a slapshot, we are going to make sure that we’re going to get it right or at least close anyways, but that we know the difference and that we’re able to portray that. We feel quite at home with it.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press