In 2012, as the big-budget feature film "The Peanuts Movie" was announced, Jeannie Schulz was enthusiastic yet not without concern. What if this was too ambitious? What if the public did not embrace the latest digital iteration of the Charlie Brown gang — a story not created by her late cartoonist husband?
The film's ultimate success three years later assuaged such concerns. Fox/Blue Sky's CG-animated film grossed nearly a quarter-billion dollars worldwide (on a $99 million budget), and garnered a Golden Globe nomination.
What the film especially reflected was the enduring fan affection for "Peanuts," which makes the $345 million deal with kids' programming company DHX Media, announced May 10, not at all surprising.
A decade after Charles Schulz's death in 2000, United Media Licensing was sold to the Iconix Brand Group in a $175 million deal, with an 80 percent stake in "Peanuts" going to Iconix and the Schulz family getting the other 20 percent. Jeannie Schulz told The Washington Post at that time that the family gained some control while also partnering with a company aggressively attuned to consumer markets.
This month, looking toward Canada seems a savvy way for the Peanuts family to retain that same 20 percent control while continuing to lean into consumer potential. Meanwhile, DHX gains an 80 percent stake in "Peanuts" and a 100 percent stake in "Strawberry Shortcake," which was owned by Iconix.
"Over the course of the last several months, we have met with DHX Media and all of their working parts," Schulz says, "and we have confidence that they are a partner who understands the heart and soul of Peanuts. We look forward to working them."
It's reassuring that the Schulz family members are retaining their same stake; they have proved to be a sure and steady hand, with a son and grandson of the "Peanuts" creator's even co-writing the "Peanuts Movie's" screenplay.
And what "Peanuts" fans get in DHX is a Nova Scotia-based company that has displayed a particular acumen with growing and licensing children's content — including "Teletubbies," "Inspector Gadget," "Caillou" and "Yo Gabba Gabba!"
Because there are no new "Peanuts" comic strips, the creation of animated works is vital to attracting new fans — and the brand's hundreds of licensing deals in about 100 countries is key to maintaining the characters' high profiles and curating that next generation.
For a cartoon gang that long lived primarily in a print world with the occasional special, the ability to keep growing its existence on screens is admirable — and essential.
The deal is expected to close in June.