On Web, 'Peanuts' Gets New Lease On Life

Craig Schulz, Charles Schulz's son, talks about the release of 20 Peanuts digital shorts online that are based on the classic comic strips from 1964. Schulz, president of Creative Associates, which approved and manages all of the licensing for Peanuts-related products, says the webisodes are an attempt to get children to turn to the comic strip in books and newspapers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Charlie Brown is going digital. Today, Warner Brothers is releasing a series of new animated shorts. They're based on classic "Peanuts" comic strips, and they're designed to be downloaded to cell phones or iPods. In this one, Linus is running for class president with Charlie Brown as his VP.

(Soundbite of animation "Peanuts")

Unidentified Actor: (As Linus) Mr. Chairman, teachers and fellow students. This will be my last speech before election.

Unidentified Actress: If he doesn't say anything stupid, we can't lose.

Unidentified Actor: (As Charlie Brown) Just think, I'll be vice president.

Unidentified Actor: (As Linus) I want to talk to you this morning about the Great Pumpkin.

NORRIS: Linus and Charlie Brown there on the campaign trail. Craig Schulz is the son of cartoonist Charles Schulz. He says the hope is to bring "Peanuts" to a new generation.

Mr. CRAIG SCHULZ: By taking the comic strip and doing a very subtle animation with it, but really using the essence of the comic strip, I think that'll achieve the goal of getting kids to really show interest in the comic strip and driving them back to the books and the newspapers.

NORRIS: And these episodes are all based in the '60s, yes?

Mr. SCHULZ: They are. They all came from - I believe we pulled from '64. They picked the year '64 because we thought the '60s was a strong year. The characters were different back then. They were a little edgier. It was a different time in the world, basically. So my dad had kind of an edgier strip then.

NORRIS: Edgier, that's so interesting.

Mr. SCHULZ: Well, Lucy was much edgier back them. She - if you really go back into the late '50s, early '60s, she was - she was much more aggressive, had a tendency towards violence, punched a lot of people. There were strips where, believe it or not, Linus would actually shoot - they'd shoot each other with cap guns all the time. They all - they all carried guns. There was a reference to the nuclear war at one point. And then, you know, in the '70s, it really softened. And you know, but there's definitely a softening of the strip.

NORRIS: Now, forgive me. Was Lucy already into psychoanalysis in the 1960s?

Mr. SCHULZ: Yes, I believe she was. She knew it all.

NORRIS: Yeah, yeah, she did, and she let you know that, too didn't she?

Mr. SCHULZ: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: We just heard a clip where Linus and Charlie Brown are on the campaign trail, and the voices sound very much like the ones that we hear in those old TV specials. Did you find kids that actually sounded like Linus and Lucy and Pig-Pen and Charlie Brown, or are there kids doing impersonations?

Mr. SCHULZ: No, no. You have to find - it has to be their natural tone. And it's not easy. Actually, it's funny because I think the kid we found for Linus had a loose tooth, and we had to make sure we got him recorded before that tooth fell out because he would lose his lisp. And yeah, they don't have - they have a very short span. When you find somebody with that voice, you're normally only going to get them for a couple of years. And then their voice changes, and you're out looking for somebody else again.

NORRIS: So this is the first 20 episodes. It sounds like you already have to find a new Linus.

Mr. SCHULZ: Well, I think - hopefully he'll last. But yeah, we might have to.

NORRIS: "Peanuts" is in many ways a series of stories about disappointment. The Great Pumpkin never comes, the football is always pulled away at the last minute when Charlie Brown tries to punt. And yet the strip is still so popular. What's the secret behind its staying power?

Mr. SCHULZ: Well, I think the strip is timeless. And that's, I think, what fascinates people. Not only is it timeless, when you read the strip as a child, and then you come back and read the strip as a parent, you know, it takes on a whole different tone. The same strip can appeal to you on a different level. And I think we all deal with the girlfriend that walks away, and losing the baseball games, and losing the checkers games. It's, you know, basically the comic strip - 90 percent of it is in all of us. We can all relate to either one character in one way or another.

NORRIS: Are you somewhere in the strip?

Mr. SCHULZ: Well, people always say that I came in the strip as Pig-Pen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHULZ: But, actually, I think all the kids in the comic strip, I can literally look back and read the comic strip and review my life just in - not only in the drawings - I see drawings, and in that drawing will be a banner of something that was in my room. The lamps are drawn exactly like the lamps in our house, the shades, the window sills, the furniture. To me, it's a total flashback to my childhood, not necessary literally, but a lot of it's there, without a doubt.

NORRIS: Craig Schulz, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. SCHULZ: Glad to do it.

NORRIS: Craig Schulz is the son of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. He was speaking to us about the release of 20 new digital shorts featuring Charlie Brown, Linus, and the gang.

(Soundbite of animation "Peanuts")

Unidentified Actor: (As Charlie Brown) But why did you have to bring up the Great Pumpkin?

Unidentified Actor: (As Linus) It was my duty, Charlie Brown.

Unidentified Actor: (As Charlie Brown) Oh, good grief.

Unidentified Actor: (As Linus) You're looking at me like I'm crazy.

Unidentified Actor: (As Charlie Brown) I'm looking at you like I could have been vice president.

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