The Genius of Charles M. Schulz

I love art.

And I really love art that makes us think.   After watching the new Peanuts movie over the weekend, I was reminded of all the little things I enjoyed during my life of reading the five decades of comic strips created by Charles Schulz.

Really good art reflects something of ourselves when we see it.  In the adventures of children and their dog, a number of complex ideas were thrown at the audience on a daily basis in a very innocent and simple looking format.  The kids hated homework, Mondays and being told what to do, but they also dealt with failure, depression and overcoming adversity.

The genius of Mr. Schulz is, the topics were realistic enough and at times escapist enough that people could take from Peanuts whatever they needed.  If you were having a bad day, and Charlie Brown just had the literal football pulled away from him again, you could relate to that.  Conversely, on a good day and you saw Snoopy doing his happy dance, it certainly added a smile to your face.

What I found fascinating when I went to read reviews about the new movie with all the classic characters jumping around in 3D computer animation, is not everyone likes the Snoopy happy dance, or Snoopy in general?

That’s a tough planet.  Who could possibly have a problem with Snoopy?

Apparently, for some hardcore Peanuts fans, the dog with the imagination ruins the chemistry of the ensemble cast of kids dealing with more realistic human drama.  So even a comic strip runs into the difficulty of being just one flavor to entertain a specific group of readers.

The beauty of the comic strip is it could be all things to all readers.  If you’re a glass half empty pessimist, and I’ve been there too — then the kite eating tree is a key element to that world.  A tree that destroys the potential happy kites of Charlie Brown.  However, if you’re a bright eyed optimist, you cheer for Chuck each and every time he is determined to try and fly that kite again, no matter how many times the tree wins.

When I was younger, the blahs an blue sad days for the kids, or a good Schroeder eye roll when Lucy was leaning in on his toy piano was my favorite stuff.  The bad advice from Lucy for a nickel when you wanted a solution.  The general apathy that can be found in the mundane cycles of working and living was found in those nooks and crannies in between panels of Peanuts adventures.

However, some level of wisdom kicked in during my aging process and the joy of following Snoopy guide Woodstock and friends on a scouting adventure, the happy dance, the next great “Dark and stormy night” story or a duel with the undefeated Red Baron reflected my growing optimism for each and every day.

Beyond the excellent comic strip, the animated features and the newest film, I find the balance of struggle and overcoming adversity more fun than ever.  And to ‘hear’ Snoopy laugh on the big screen, well, it makes my day.

I absolutely considered Charlie Brown a loser at one point.  I didn’t mock the poor kid, I just felt bad for him because he was a loser.  And the new film beautifully destroys that ancient sentiment I had for a long time.  Charlie Brown is us.  More stuff goes wrong than goes right, but he still reaches for the baseball, the kite, and tries one more time to kick that damn football.  A lesser being, real or imagined, would likely give up at some point.  Not our guy.  Chuck Brown never surrenders, never stops trying and holds on to hope in the most amazing and defiant ways.

And if Snoopy gets to have most of the fun, don’t forget, it doesn’t always work for Snoopy either.  The Red Baron generally gets the best of the beagle.  The thoughtful dog helps the kids and his best pal Woodstock every chance he gets, imagines great adventures and again, gets to be the happiest one in the strip.  I’ve met dogs almost as smart as Snoopy, I don’t thing the Flying Ace destroys the realism of the disappointments the other characters face – he is the escapist option we all have on a tough day.  We can daydream, dance with birds or run at full speed and try to pull the blanket away from Linus.  Joe Cool is on the case. Better yet, let’s fire up the Sopwith Camel and take to the skies.

There is genius in the simple line work of the artist, Charles M. Schulz.  From his pencil and pen to our hearts, we can see it in those kids experiencing unpleasant setbacks adults understand all too well.  The genius is how it reaches so many humans in so many different ways.

Ultimately, if you’re having a bit of a blue Monday, perhaps the the pragmatic Lucy van Pelt may assist you from her Psychiatric Advice booth, “Snap out of it!”

Good grief, she may be on to something.

Or not.

But at least it only cost us a nickel.