Charlie Brown and God

Posted on May 3, 2016 at 3:53 pm

The Atlantic has a fascinating article about “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz and the way he expressed his religious doubts and beliefs through his classic comic strip.

Charles Schulz was widely applauded for a long list of achievements. The creator of the Peanuts comic strip was a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and his comics earned him an Emmy, Peabody, and Congressional Gold Medal. Sixteen years after his death in 2000, Schulz is still the third top-earning deceased celebrity, trailing only Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. He even changed the way Americans talk, inserting phrases like “Good grief!” and “security blanket” into the national vocabulary.

But Schulz also revolutionized his industry by using his strip to subtly raise religious questions about the Bible, prayer, the nature of God, and the end of the world. Schulz was a devoted Christian; unshell the Peanuts and you’ll find the fingerprints of his faith. By mixing Snoopy with spirituality, he made his readers laugh while inviting them into a depth of conversation uncommon to the funny pages….More than 560 of Schulz’s nearly 17,800 Peanuts newspaper strips contain a religious, spiritual, or theological reference. To put this into perspective, Schulz only produced 61 strips featuring the famous scene where Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown as he tries to kick it. Particularly later in his career, the religious references came so frequently that pastors and religious publications regularly requested permission to reprint Peanuts strips, which Schulz almost always granted.

The beloved “Charlie Brown Christmas” is notable not just for its pathetic little tree and evocative Vince Guaraldi score but also for the clear, sweet voice of Linus reciting a passage from the Gospel of Luke, a rare reminder in the world of advertising-driven commercial television that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.

The article quotes Stephen J. Lind, author of A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz.

“When readers come to the end of the panel, there is a gap not only between two rectangles, but also the action contained in each and the reader must then fill in what happened, creating a sense of mental ‘closure’ so that the episode makes sense,” Lind writes. “As the reader fills in this narrative leap, they begin to connect with the scene, for they helped create it.”

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Behind the Scenes

The Peanuts Movie

Posted on November 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles)
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2015
Date Released to DVD: February 29, 2016 ASIN: B018WXLHVM

I admit that I approached this film with some of the same trepidation Charlie Brown approaches the football, knowing Lucy’s history of pulling it out of the way at the last second. I’m a fan of Charles Schultz’s original comic strip and fond of many of the animated specials and features that were careful to preserve the simplicity of his aesthetic. I was concerned that a more fully-animated version (in 3D!) would drown out the gentle storylines. But Schulz’s family has been careful to preserve his legacy. The script is co-written by his son and grandson and is timed to appear on the 65th anniversary of the strip and the 50th anniversary of the classic “Charlie Brown Christmas” special. And Blue Sky (which made the “Ice Age” and “Rio” movies) understands the material and its audiences — the older generations who are attached to the original version and today’s children, who are new to these characters.

The brightly colored, rounded figures were easier to get used to than I feared. The iconic details — Charlie Brown’s yellow shirt with the brown zigzag (it turns out he has a whole closetful) and wisps of hair are familiarly iconic. It’s not a period piece but there is a timeless quality. Phones are corded landlines. We never see a laptop and no one ever checks Google or GPS. Indeed, one of the most important items in the story is a pencil. It has glitter and a feather decorating it, but it also has the teeth marks of its sometimes nervous owner, and that is something you won’t find on a smartphone.

The movie does not commit any serious blunders. There are pleasant moments and welcome echoes of the past, but it does not justify its existence by adding anything of value to the canon already available. The first and best of the television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is less than half an hour long, but it has more wit, charm, poignancy, than this feature film, and it includes one of the most beautiful holiday songs ever written, the piercingly bittersweet Christmastime is Here. In almost two hours, this film has time for just a snippet, to make room for inferior contemporary pop songs. A joke about “merch” seems ill-advised given the strip’s history of selling its characters for everything from insurance to toothbrushes.

The film begins promisingly, with Schroder playing the studio’s theme music on his piano and an immersive soft, gentle snowfall. It’s the most joyous day of the year — a snow day — and we meet the characters as they wake up and choose the winter activities they most enjoy. Charlie Brown decides it is a good time for him to try the kite again, figuring that the “kite-eating tree” will be out of commission in winter. It does not go well. Once school is back in session, a new student arrives, a girl with red hair, and Charlie Brown is smitten — and terrified. How can he impress her?

The Schulzes are true to the spirit of the original. We squirm with Charlie Brown as he agonizes over his insecurity, especially when he is faced with a dilemma at the school talent show and when he is awarded an honor it turns out he did not deserve. The sections with Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasy are of less interest and appeal and the 3D effects and the talents of top-tier musical stars (Trombone Shorty playing the “waa waas” for the adult voices and Kristen Chenoweth as Snoopy’s daring aviatrix love interest) are underused. The best use of this film is as an introduction to the classic television specials — and the original comic strips that inspired them.

Parents should know that this film includes some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, and some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles).

Family discussion: Which character is most like your friends? Which would you most want to be like? Why don’t we hear the grown-up voices?

If you like this, try: The Peanuts comic strip collections and the television specials.

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3D Animation Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week School Stories About Kids

Family Movies for Thanksgiving

Posted on November 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

There are some great Thanksgiving movies for adults. And here are some for the whole family to share.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving This is the one with the famous episode about Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy keeps snatching away from him. And Peppermint Patty invites herself to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving and he is too kind-hearted to tell her that he won’t be there because his family is going to his grandmother’s. When the Peanuts gang comes over for a feast prepared by Charlie Brown himself, Patty gets angry at being served toast and jelly beans. But when she realizes how hard her friend tried to be hospitable, she learns what gratitude really means.

Dora’s Thanksgiving Parade Dora the Explorer has to save the day when the parade float gets away.

Squanto and the First Thanksgiving , Native American actor Graham Greene and musician Paul McCandless tell the story of Squanto’s extraordinary generosity and leadership in reaching out to the Pilgrims after he had been sold into slavery by earlier European arrivals in the New World.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving Jacqueline Bisset stars in this warm-hearted tale, based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women).

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Early Readers Elementary School For the Whole Family Holidays

Twelve Great Christmas Movies That Don’t Feature Clarence the Angel, Bing Crosby, Tiny Tim, or a Leg Lamp

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Reprising from 2007:

I love It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and A Christmas Story as much as anyone. I love the bittersweet struggles of George Bailey and never get tired of seeing him try to resist falling in love with Mary when they’re on that phone call to Sam “Hee Haw!” Wainwright. I love the way Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Wallace and Davis preserve the old general’s pride when they help him keep the resort going. And I love the way that Ralphie and his family find that Christmas is not about neatly wrapped gifts and perfectly harmonized carols or even a turkey dinner. That last scene, when they all laugh, knowing that this will be one of their best Christmas memories ever, is one of my favorite moments in any film I’ve ever seen. I’ve already written about how much I love every version of A Christmas Carol.

So, let’s assume you’ve seen all those already this year and are looking for something else. Here’s a list with one for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. And I’d love to hear about your favorites, too.

(From #6, Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Plus Halloween & Easter Celebrations)

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