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New adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and other creations by comic-strip artist Charles Schulz begin airing Monday, on the Boomerang and Cartoon Network channels, and they’re as good as any of the 1960s CBS specials that have been endlessly rerun. The new Peanuts are based on the original comic strips by Schulz and feature a beautifully faithful rendering of the characters.
The results are familiar and funny, as well as being tart and distinctive. What I like best about these new Peanuts TV adaptations is that they’re far more true to Schulz’s tone in the strips than they are to the mawkish, sentimental point of view imposed by Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez productions such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. And heaven knows the new Peanuts cartoons are superior to that awful 2015 3-D animation feature film The Peanuts Movie.
The new Peanuts shorts first aired in France in 2014 and 2015, produced and directed by Alexis Lavillat. They depict typical Peanuts moments — Lucy dispensing advice from behind her makeshift “Psychiatric Help 5 cents” booth, or following Charlie Brown as he tries to help a Snoopy who’s become enraged by a child who refers to the canine as “a kid in a dog suit.” My favorite moment in the cartoons I’ve seen thus far occurs when Lucy is in a foul mood: “I feel mean — I hate the whole world!” she says, stomping around. “Nobody better get in my way today!” she bellows with typical Lucy aggression… until she encounters Snoopy in a lyrically goofy mood, his good vibes altering her own bleak ones. It’s an excellent animated interpretation of Schulz’s understanding of the psychology of children (and adults).
In a clever move, these Peanuts are presented as animated comic strips: instead of cutting to a new scene, the camera moves to a new strip panel — the effect is to watch TV as though you’re reading a comic strip on the page. The backgrounds are minimal, as were Schulz’s, with a very pretty watercolor-wash background. The children’s voices providing the characters’ vocals are crisp and naturalistic.
It’s no surprise that the French would serve Peanuts so well — they get the essentially existential nature of Charles Schulz’s philosophy, and Schulz was a great admirer of French culture, which he encountered first-hand while stationed there during World War II. You’re already aware of the French influence that seeped into his strips — those Snoopy and the Red Baron adventures, during which Snoopy frequents French cafes and makes eyes as a French waitress.
The new Peanuts is an entirely laudable project, and if it gets children and adults to go back to the source — Schulz’s original masterpieces of cartoon art, which have been lovingly preserved in a series of beautiful books published by Fantagraphics Press — well, then the series will be of even greater value. All this, plus you don’t even have to put up with that grating Vince Guaraldi jazz background noise. It’s terrific.
Peanuts airs at 11:30 a.m. on Boomerang weekdays; a special week of episodes will air at 10 a.m. ET on the Cartoon Network, May 9-13.