Washington Good grief, Charlie Brown. The world has certainly changed since the Peanuts were born.
In 60 years, the U.S. sent a man to the moon, survived the Cold War and now has one of the worst economic funks in decades. All that time, Charles Schulz’s imaginary gang has been a fixture of newspaper funny pages and grainy holiday TV specials.
Now, his family is working to keep Snoopy, Lucy and the rest alive for generations to come. A handful of new projects is in the works. The first new animated film in five years is set for release next spring called “Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown.” ABC just signed on for five more years of airing Charlie Brown holiday specials. A new social media game began on Facebook and Twitter last month to “Countdown to the Great Pumpkin,” and the comic strip has made its way to a popular gaming website for millions of children.
The enduring appeal is no surprise, said Lee Mendelson, who produced the Peanuts films with Schulz for more than 40 years.
Schulz had said “there’s always going to be a market for innocence in this country,” Mendelson said Friday as a photograph of Schulz at his drawing board was hung at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in recognition of his impact on the nation. Schulz died in 2000.
“The innocence and the humor that he brought, I think, helped us as a nation through many bad times,” Mendelson said.
Peanuts comics, which first appeared in 1950 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, still appear in 2,200 newspapers in 75 different countries. Newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps Co. sold the licensing unit that controls “Peanuts” and other comics in April to Iconix Brand Group Inc. — a licensing company partially owned by the Schulz family — for $175 million.
Jeannie Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow, said she often hears from people at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., about how well the characters reflect their own feelings. That may be a key to the Peanuts’ longevity, she said.