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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    How a love for comic strips led Connecticut-born producer and writer to Emmy nomination

    The Peanuts gang has a champion from Connecticut.

    One of the producers and writers responsible for the surge of new specials and movies starring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy  and Linus hails from Newington.

    Cornelius Uliano was the executive producer of the 2015 feature “The Peanuts Movie” as well as the recent series of “Snoopy Presents” specials, including “One-of-a-kind Marcie,” the latest special on Apple+. One of those specials, “Snoopy Presents: Lucy’s School,” was recently nominated for a 2023 Children’s and Family Emmy for Outstanding Animated Special. The award show will take place on Dec. 17.

    In addition, a special starring another longtime supporting character in the Peanuts strips, Franklin, will debut next year, and a second Peanuts feature film was recently announced.

    The shows have been admired for how well they capture the spirit of the iconic Peanuts comic strips and the high quality of their animation, writing and heartwarming educational content. Uliano’s work as an executive producer finds him involved in every aspect of production, from deciding what sort of stories to tell to overseeing the quality of the animation.

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    “I grew up in Connecticut making films with my mom’s video camcorder,” Uliano said. “I love Connecticut and go back there frequently,” though he now lives in California.

    Uliano divided his high school years between Newington High School and the filmmaking program at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. He also acted in shows with the Newington Children’s Theatre. At Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, he recalled that “they had cameras you could take out. That was a dream. Theory is great, but doing it is where learn the most.”

    His early cinematic influences included directors Stephen Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas.

    While studying at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, California, Uliano was encouraged by an instructor to get to know a fellow student Bryan Schulz, who appeared to have similar interests and aspirations. It was good advice.

    “Bryan was like a creative soulmate,” Uliano said. “We grew up on different coasts but had the same childhood, wanting to make movies. We started writing together. That’s before I even knew he was Charles Schulz’s grandson.”

    Charles Schulz was, of course, the creator of “Peanuts.” He wrote and drew the comic strip from 1950 until his death in 2000. The strip inspired a series of TV cartoon specials and movies as well as the long-running off-Broadway musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” The Peanuts characters have been ubiquitous in popular culture, from greeting cards to TV commercials to Snoopy being chosen as the official mascot for NASA space missions.

    After his time at the Brooks Institute of Photography, Uliano got a job working in the mailroom at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. After work, he would write screenplays with Bryan Schulz. A non-Peanuts live-action project that Schulz co-wrote with Bryan Schulz, “Boys of Summer,” is expected to be released next year. It stars Mel Gibson, Lorraine Bracco and Mason Thames from “The Black Phone.”

    “We had no intention of doing anything Peanuts, but an opportunity came up through Craig Schulz, Bryan’s dad,” Uliano said.

    The project was a feature film that could reinvigorate the Peanuts franchise and introduce the characters to a new generation. The movie’s deep respect for Charles Schulz’s original vision delighted hardcore Peanuts fans, as did its attention to minor characters and details in the comic strips.

    “We wanted to make it true to the brand,” Uliano said. “We wanted it to be as good as possible. After the movie, we were working on other things when another opportunity came up. Apple+ had acquired the Peanuts specials and was making new content.

    “It’s a challenging experience writing for characters you really admire and love,” Uliano added. “With the special, we can focus on characters you don’t normally focus on, like Marcie and Lucy. Next year it will be Franklin. We’re always open to new stories. If we have a story that’s right and good to tell, that’s when we decide to do it. We’re always looking.”

    Uliano said “Snoopy Presents: Lucy’s School” started as a love letter to teachers. “Lucy is thinking she could have an endless summer by starting her own school and graduating early. She eventually realizes how hard it is to be a teacher,” he said.

    The Peanuts projects are about children and enjoyed by children but Uliano notes that they are really written for adults.

    “The Peanuts kids act like adults,” he said. “We’re really proud of the feedback we get from older fans who tell us how true we’ve remained to the comic strip. It’s all about honoring the comic strip.

    “Comic strips are important,” Uliano added. “I grew up reading them in the Hartford Courant, and I wish more people experienced them that way now. Everyone has a love for Peanuts. You feel that.”

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