As I sit at my desk writing this sentence, my dog, Leopold, a mix of black lab and who knows what, is perched on an end table, his backside using the arm of our couch as a bench while he stoically stares out into a snowy world through our third-story Chicago window. He’d be almost human if it wasn’t for the fact that he occasionally pierces the silence by chomping down on an incredibly loud, blue squeaky ball. All of us dog lovers have shared this type of moment: when we see something all too human — or even of ourselves — reflected in our furry friends. And many of us, when it happens, likely can hear an exasperated Charlie Brown bemoaning, “Why can’t I have a normal dog like everyone else?”
It’s one of the things that late Peanuts creator Charles Schulz did so very well. He’d take a shared human experience and find strange, new directions and places to go with it. Hence, Snoopy was always more than just Charlie Brown’s faithful companion. He might ask for his dinner with supper dish in mouth or sleep on the top of his doghouse like pooches we’ve all known, but he’d also angrily fling his supper dish like a Frisby or garishly decorate that same doghouse for Christmas to take home a neighborhood prize. There have been existential arguments about Snoopy’s character for decades now, but at the very least, Charlie Brown’s dog, part beagle and part Walter Mitty, seems to, in a way, round out and complete his owner.
While Charlie Brown can’t even kick that football held by Lucy in his wildest dreams, Snoopy can don a pair of shades and become Joe Cool, big pooch on campus, or hunt down the Red Baron as a flying ace piloting his doghouse into combat. He was a dog who, despite his shortcomings and meekness, never settled for his lot in life — always an underdog who kept striving for something more than normalcy. In that way, he captured not only our imaginations but the spirit of Peanuts. It seemed fitting, then, that Schulz drew Snoopy typing atop his doghouse as the artist bid fans farewell in his final comic strip 20 years ago next week.
That’s the Snoopy many of us remember and hope to see again with Apple TV+’s The Snoopy Show. More importantly, that’s the Snoopy we want for an entire generation of children, young and old, who came around too late to know Charlie Brown, his unusual fido, and the whole Peanuts gang as intimately as the generations before them. That’s not to say that the beagle and his feathered friend, Woodstock, are in danger of disappearing from pop culture. Snoopy has been a blimp in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1968, a spokes-pooch for MetLife insurance for three decades, and a recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We also can’t set foot in a local drugstore or department store come the holidays without seeing endcaps overflowing with everything from Snoopy Christmas tree ornaments in December to Snoopy valentines in February.
But here’s the rub. Nobody took up Shulz’s strip after he retired, nor are the creative team behind the old Peanuts television specials still around. And while, yes, Charlie Brown got an animation upgrade (and a third dimension) in 2015’s The Peanuts Movie to largely positive reviews, we saw just this year that it’s becoming harder and harder to find our favorite Peanuts specials on television come the holidays. It all points to there maybe being a little more at stake than we care to think with a reboot like this one.
While it’s great that the Peanuts are getting another moment in the spotlight, it also feels like another audition of sorts: Do well and there will be more of Charlie Brown to come. Let’s not forget 2019’s standalone series, Snoopy in Space, the first Apple-Peanuts venture, which even included a nostalgic McDonald’s marketing campaign. At the time, it felt like a test for Apple: Will there be an audience? The Snoopy Show suggests the global conglomerate found their answer, though it does make you wonder: If The Snoopy Show should trip and fall square on its star’s big nose, could the Peanuts brand be headed straight to souvenir city and t-shirt town? Sadly, that’s been the fate of so many of our favorite childhood properties.
From Looney Tunes and classic Disney characters to the Hanna-Barbera bunch, the animated ambassadors of our Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons are nothing more than stuffed animals and t-shirt designs to children of the present. After all, they’ve never seen the classic “rabbit-season/duck-season” battle of wits between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, nor do they know the formulaic bliss of solving a Scooby-Doo mystery (those meddling kids!). Periodically, a classic property like Yogi Bear or Tom & Jerry (see later this month) receives an update, but flop at the box office, and it’s back to strictly merchandise and encasing sweaty teenagers for photo-ops at amusement parks.
Though not animated, The Muppets are a property that have had some reboot success in several formats across the past decade while flying under the Disney flag. That said, there aren’t many signs that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy — nor other non-Disney-owned Jim Henson creations like The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock, both of which have re-emerged to degrees — have actually brought in new fans for that brand. It’s also doubtful that the vaudeville stylings of The Muppet Show will appeal to younger generations when that series comes to Disney+ at the end of the month.
And, ultimately, that’s what a beloved property needs to survive: new generations discovering it. It’s wonderful for longtime fans of these properties to see their favorite characters at it again, and it’s even more special when we can share them with our own kids. But if that next batch of potential Muppet maniacs or Peanuts fanatics don’t emerge, then eventually content will dry up and the likes of Snoopy and Woodstock and the kid with the round head and male-pattern baldness will be reduced to making a quick buck by having their likenesses stamped on anything and everything.
In some cases, that might just be the nature of things. Who’s to say that our favorite cartoons and characters should go on forever and continue to resonate through the generations? In many ways, Peanuts was always a longshot to find an audience. While it could be very silly and cute at times, Schulz’s world wasn’t particularly edgy or fast-paced, nor was it all sunshine and peppermints (other than Patty). Schulz created a daily comic strip true to our daily lives, full of anxiety and the blues and yearning and the creeping suspicion that we just aren’t quite good enough.
Yet, what also existed was the hope that comes with a daily strip: hope that tomorrow could turn out a little better, that Charlie Brown might finally kick that football, or that the little, red-haired girl might at long last notice him. Snoopy, in many ways, represents that hope. His daydreams show us how much of the world — if only in our hearts — might be there for the taking if only we summoned the courage to believe in ourselves just a little bit. His indomitable spirit and refusal to be a normal dog suggest that every dog — even the Charlie Browns of the world — might eventually have his or her day.
Here’s hoping The Snoopy Show finds our favorite beagle as anything but a normal dog.