Interview: Son of Peanuts Creator Charles M. Schulz
The family of beloved Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz helped to create "Happiness Is A Warm Blanket," a 44-minute, direct-to-DVD tale about Linus and his cherished blue blanket.
We spoke with Charles M. Schulz's son, Craig, who runs the family business with Schulz's widow, Jeannie. We chatted about his famous father and how this latest Charlie Brown adventure came about. An edited version of that conversation follows.
ParentDish: What do you think it is about the Peanuts characters that resonates with so many people?
Craig Schulz: I think because we can all relate. Every person has one or two or more of the traits of the characters. I think we would all would love to be Snoopy and live in his fantasy world.
PD: What do you mean?
CS: We all get stuck in [the] pace of our lives. And then you look at someone like Snoopy. One day he's going to the moon, the next day he's a flying ace, the next day he's writing great novels [or] he's an attorney. He gets to live all these great fantasies and when it all goes wrong he goes up on the top of the doghouse and falls asleep.
PD: Now that you mention it, that does sound nice.
CS: And he has a total disregard for his owner. He's the only dog who never knows his owner's name. He's just the big round headed kid who gives him his food, and that's all Snoopy cares about. (laughs)
PD: My son draws his own comic strip and is a huge Peanuts fan. He wanted me to ask you -- where did your dad get the idea for Peanuts?
CS: [It] came from [his experiences] growing up. We [all] look back on our childhood and there's kids that were the great baseball players and the rock stars and whatever, and then there's those of us who never thought we'd fit in, and that was my dad. Even though he was good at sports and good in school, he thought he was the average kid that no one would recognize [or] get along with, and I think that stuck with him throughout his life.
PD: Your father must have realized what an impact he had on people. Did he never really feel that?
CS: I think on some level he never did ... [part of him] always felt relatively inadequate. Maybe it was the craft he was doing. Cartoonists really don't rank that high on the esteem list of artists in the country.
This is what my dad had to deal with every day ... six inches by six inches. The newspaper [prints it] one inch by one inch on cheap paper, people read it, and then it goes into the birdcage. Unless you come to the Schulz Museum and look at the originals, you really have no idea how much work goes into the strips, it's totally different from what the viewer gets to see. On the other hand, my dad had 50 years communicating with over 400 million people, and I doubt that that's been topped by anybody. We're trying to figure out where we can put it as the newspapers continually dwindle out of the world.
PD: Which brings us to the DVD. This is a new animated special?
CS: All new, yeah. Warner Brothers wanted a direct to DVD, 44-minute long special. And the family was adamant about making it based upon the comic strips, with nothing made up, right out of my dad's mouth. We spent a year and a half going through comic strips one by one, trying to form this story of Linus dealing with the blanket, his grandmother coming ... but it's more than that. The story deals with all the characters' lives ... Who's secure, who's insecure, and why.
PD: You said the family had to be comfortable with the project. Who is the group that has to agree to everything?
CS: My dad's five children. (Charles M. Schulz had five kids, Meredith, Monte, Amy, Craig and Jill.) I'm in the middle of that group. And his wife Jeannie. It's a tough crowd.
PD: Why do you say that?
CS: Well, because like my dad, they're all very competitive, they're all very headstrong, they all kind of know where they're going and why. And the thing about the family -- that I agree with totally -- everything we do is not solely to make money. It all goes back to the integrity of my dad's work. That's our No. 1 goal, it always has been.
PD: You wrote this special, right?
CS: Well, if you break it down my dad wrote this one. I say we adapted it from the comic strip. We tried to take a different look at the Peanuts specials, [which have] covered pretty much every kind of situation you could imagine -- from the space program ... to a little girl who had cancer. We realized that what hadn't been done is [digging deeper] into the comic strips to find new stories. We wanted the special to appeal not only to children but also to the die-hard Peanuts fan.
PD: So is it fair to say that you're looking towards the future, to see that Peanuts lives forever?
CS: Without a doubt. I think it will live forever. I think the tone, the essence of the comic strip, the philosophy, is kind of timeless. It amazes me every day when we get the list of the comic strips that are coming out in the next four or five months. They'll be dead on with what's going on in the world today, and it was 40 years ago when he wrote that stuff.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.