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22 Dec 2015 10:17
The Peanuts Movie is directed by Charles Schulz’s son Craig and grandson Bryan. (Supplied)
“Be yourself,” Charles Schulz once wrote. “No one can say you’re doing it wrong.”
It was such moments of understated wisdom that ensured Schulz’s
coterie of put-upon cartoon protagonists, from Charlie Brown and Snoopy
to Peppermint Patty and Linus van Pelt, their status as some of the most
beloved comic strip characters for more than
half a century.
First published in October 1950, the Peanuts comic strip became the
most influential and popular in the world: at its peak, it was read by
355 million people across 75 countries.
The final strip was published on
13 February 2000.
To coincide with the 65th anniversary of the strip, the Peanuts
gang have been brought to life, and modern audiences, in a film that
will be released on Saturday.
The film release comes at a crucial time for the legacy of the
influential comic strip.
The film has been written and produced by the cartoonist’s son
Craig and grandson Bryan. Schulz’s widow, Jeannie, said because of the
mixed reception received by the Peanuts television adaptations made
after her husband died, she was originally hesitant
about the project.
“That’s why it took so long,” she said. “We did several television
shows after my husband died and there were mixed feelings about how they
fared. So there were qualms.”
There were 17,897 Peanuts strips published overall, documenting the
trials, tribulations, failures and insecurities of the ever-worrying
Charlie Brown, who kept going no matter what misfortunes life threw at
him. Many have argued that the enduring appeal
of Schulz’s strip is its honest and emotionally insightful reflection
on the human condition.
Recalling her late husband’s close relationship to the strip,
Jeannie said: “He always said, ‘I am all the characters. I’m Charlie
Brown. But I also have Lucy in me. I’d love to be able to do all the
things that Snoopy does in his fantasy world.’ He said,
‘I can be cranky like Lucy; I’m philosophical like Linus’.
“All the insecurities in the strip are his and I don’t think he
ever got over them actually. Despite that insecurity, he did understand
how much people loved his work and he appreciated the global reach of
the comic strip.”
She said Schulz had been very protective of Peanuts, but added that
she thought he would be very pleased with its transition to the big
screen for modern audiences.
Schulz’s cartoon may have embraced nostalgia for an innocent and
untroubled past, but his cartoon was also progressive at times. As well
as always having gender equality in his strips - Peppermint Patty and
Charlie Brown both played sport - in 1968, three
months after the murder of Martin Luther King, he introduced Franklin,
one of the first African American characters in a comic strip.
He had initially been concerned that such a move would be
considered patronising or pandering to the fight for racial equality, of
which he was a supporter, but a letter from a school teacher convinced
him otherwise. His depiction of Franklin as sitting
in a classroom next to Peppermint Patty angered southern newspapers,
who still had segregation in place, but Schulz refused to alter it,
apparently responding: “Either you print it just the way I draw it or I
quit. How’s that?”
For Derrick Bang, who runs the Peanuts Fan Club and the website
Five Cents Please , Charlie Brown’s emotional honestly was also
pioneering in the 1950s.
“The way Schulz used his characters was quite novel, mostly in
terms of the degree of emotional complexity and interpersonal angst that
flowed between the characters,” Bang said. “I tend to think of adults
in the 1950s as the ‘repressed generation’, because
they never, ever discussed their feelings; such adults were inclined to
raise their children the same way. But here comes Charlie Brown, who
talks about his feelings all the time. In effect, he made it okay to
feel insecure, as long as you didn’t let it beat
Bang said the essence of the timeless appeal of Peanuts was that
Schulz had created a self-contained universe almost resistant to
economic and cultural trends that would age it, adding that it was as
relevant today as ever.
“Schulz is one of the rare authors, rare artists, who had the
ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a childhood we never had,” he
“In hindsight, we have to admire the fact that Schulz was a
remarkably perceptive, witty and intelligent individual. He had a firm
grasp on the human condition and a lot of the messages that he put
forward in the newspaper strip I think are still going
to be timeless 200 years from now. Human nature doesn’t change.”
The strip still has a notable following among cartoonists and in
the wider literary world. When Schulz died, more than 100 cartoonists
paid tribute to him in their comic strips.
Jonathan Franzen described Snoopy as “the protean trickster whose
freedom is founded on his confidence that he’s loveable at heart, the
quick change artist who, for the sheer joy of it, can become a
helicopter or a hockey player or Head Beagle and then
again, in a flash, before his virtuosity has a chance to alienate you
or diminish you, be the eager little dog who just wants dinner”.
Read more from Hannah Ellis-Petersen or follow her on twitter
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