Snoopy and his friends are timeless characters, but even the cast of Peanuts has some skeletons in their closet. Here’s the 7 strange things you might not know included Charlie Brown and company!
Whether in newsprint, animation, or confounding ads for health insurance, I love the world of Peanuts. Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and all the rest are international superstars. Need proof? The comic strip characters have a feature film out this week after more than 50 years of appearing in just about every form of media and merchandising that could hold their image. With the added spotlight from the film, it makes you wonder just how many Charlie Brown items are as easily forgotten as Lucy’s football schemes.
From dying pilgrims to crappy ice cutters to NFL logos, there’s a lot of odd licensed stuff out there that most don’t associate with the Peanuts brand. And even though the Schultz estate may not appreciate all this ancient history being dug up, now’s the perfect time to revisit these oddities for all you blockheads out there. Starting with…
7. This Is America, Charlie Brown
After about 20 years of animated TV specials and films, creator Charles Schultz and head animator Bill Melendez decided it was time to teach kids a thing or two with an edutainment series. This Is America, Charlie Brown aired in 1988 with eight episodes mixing Peanuts’ existential humor with the kind of subject matter usually limited to public broadcasting. Framed as school reports given by the characters, they visit fairly accurate representations of historical moments, like the arrival of the Mayflower (not to be confused with their other Thanksgiving special). In order to educate, however, a few cardinal rules of the Peanuts universe were broken.
In the world of Peanuts, adults are never seen and only speak in trumpet noises, yet This Is America broke those rules big time. In the name of history, all the flashbacks show grown-up people talking and doing historically important things, which is pretty distracting for average Peanuts fans. Not only that, This Is America doesn’t always shy away from the grimmer parts of these stories, like the number of Mayflower passengers who died once they got to America. I never thought I’d see Charlie Brown next to a newly dug grave, but history is funny like that.
6. Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
I doubt I’m alone in remembering that this is one of the most disappointing gifts to get as a child of the ’80s. When you see the commercials like the one below, you’re thinking “Oh my gosh! Snow cones are the best, and now I can make them with ease with lovable cartoon dog Snoopy. I need to beg my parents for this right now!” Instead you end up with one of childhood’s most frustrating contraptions; one that forces you to associate Snoopy with carpal-tunnel syndrome from turning a crank.
It appears easy enough to drop ice in the top and then turn a crank to produce lovely snow cones, but it’s actually a torturous exercise in pushing down as hard as you can while turning a crank that barely moves. It feels like you’re a child laborer in the days prior to the steam engine, and even adults will have a hard time with it. All the while, there’s Snoopy’s smiling face, mocking you as your snow cone dreams melt before your eyes. Shockingly, they still make these, so if there’s a family you secretly hate, buy this for them over the holidays.
5. A Second Christmas Special
The original Charlie Brown Christmas Special is, without hyperbole, one of the greatest achievements of mankind. Okay, maybe that’s slightly overblown, but not by much, as the misadventures of a sad boy and his easily distracted friends is timeless (minus the deleted Coke ads). Who needs an encore after that? Charles Schultz apparently, because 1992 saw the premiere of It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown.
This sequel definitely wasn’t necessary, but it found just the right tone to hit as a follow-up. The heavy themes, scripture readings, and lengthy plot are gone, replaced with the quick, gag-heavy humor of the comic strips. In fact, some moments were lifted straight off the newspaper page, making this a simple chaser after the ennui over commercialism in the original. Plus, this one has Marcie and Peppermint Patty, who can finally join in on the seasonal fun as a shepherd and sheep… though why does the sheep look so much like Snoopy’s brother Olaf?
Unauthorized Bonus: Bring Me The Head Of Charlie Brown
This entry is highly unofficial, but for historical significance, it must be shared. Long before Flash animation, Calarts student Jim Reardon drew this highly profane and grisly parody of Charlie Brown and the gang. It revels in tearing apart these sacred cows, though I think the funniest bit is at the end when they’re begging not to be sued. Reardon’s talent is easy to see even in a student film, and he’d fulfill that promise as one of The Simpsons best animators before moving onto Pixar and Disney films. Though, after watching this, maybe Jim should visit Lucy’s psychiatry booth.
What do Japan and professional football have to do with Charlie Brown? All will be explained on the next page, you blockhead!