The Apple TV+ documentary, Who Are You, Charlie Brown? celebrates the adorable group of comic-strip kids that has entertained and delighted several generations -- and the man who brought them to life.
Creator Charles “Sparky” Schulz began in 1950 with three characters: Shermy, Patty, and Good Ol’ Charlie Brown. From there, the Peanuts family grew to what it is today – a group of individuals each with his or her own personality that, when combined, enriches all of their lives.
Produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and narrated by Lupita Nyong'o, Who Are You, Charlie Brown? begins with a school assignment in which Charlie Brown must write an essay about who he is. But just who is Charlie Brown?
To us, he is a sweet, well-meaning little boy. But he doesn’t see himself like that, and so, he sets out on a journey to discover who he is.
This leads to an examination of the characters' individual personalities, and how they fit into the group.
The Peanuts gang gently shows how people with very different attitudes, interests and goals can remain steadfastly themselves but also stay friends, if they have mutual respect and kindness.
And it's not just about humans. Charlie's beagle Snoopy is one of the most recognizable pets on the planet (along with Snoopy's own best pal, little yellow bird Woodstock).
Snoopy has a wild imagination, which was infused with the lives of Schulz’ own kids. Whether being a World War I flying ace or strutting around like “Joe Cool,” Snoopy’s antics were taken from the Schulz family.
But as with anything else, as the country changed, the Peanuts did, as well.
In 1968, when the country was going through growing pains, Schulz introduced Franklin, the first mainstream black comic character. Franklin is a sweet little guy and embraced by all the gang. He is never treated differently and joins seamlessly with the others.
In a modern world obsessed with style and physical perfection, one of the most overlooked characters has a lesson to teach us. Pigpen is always dirty and playing in the mud, but it doesn’t bother him. When he is chastised for being dirty, he never lets it get to him. Pigpen is at ease and happy with himself and in his own skin.
Perhaps he is the most well-adjusted of the Peanuts gang. Maybe that’s why I always gravitated to him. He relates a self-assured attitude that we all long for.
Schulz (who passed away in 2000), his wife Jean, and several others -- including Kevin Smith, Drew Barrymore, Billie Jean King and Al Roker -- discuss how much the characters meant to them throughout their lives. The girls and boys were equal in the Peanuts stories, which has allowed the strip to endure through generational changes.
Fans could see parts of themselves in at least one of the characters. They are just little kids who are learning about life, and how to get through with the most joy and the least heartache. And isn’t that what we all want?
As Franklin says, "The meaning of life is to give and receive love."
So, who is Charlie Brown? In my opinion he is a kind-hearted, well-meaning, loving brother, beloved dog owner, and a nice little boy I would love to have as my friend.
Having grown up with the gang, I honestly feel they are part of my life. And thanks to them, they have made many days a lot brighter.
Editor's note: In case you were wondering about Shulz's personal faith and how it impacted the series, click here for a detailed examination of that from The Atlantic.
Image: Apple TV