Tuned In

The Morning After: A New-Old Peanuts Special, and Other Thanksgiving Leftovers

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My Thanksgiving involved cooking most of the holiday dinner in Brooklyn and driving it to my mother-in-law’s house in New Jersey: smoking a turkey, cutting it in pieces and foil-wrapping them, and stuffing them into a cooler packed with towels for insulation. It was a job not unlike transporting an organ for transplant, or disposing a body across state lines. (Actually, that’s exactly what it was, from the turkey’s point of view.)

All of which means I watched my Thanksgiving TV like a lot of people—in glimpses and patches in between checking the barbecue, taking things in and out of the oven and deciding which wine to bring and whether I could open it yet without being considered an alcoholic. (Answer to the latter: if your wife will have a glass too, that’s drinking socially.) So I caught snippets of the National Dog Show, favorite holiday special of animal lovers and ankle fetishists; the Macy’s parade, in which children get to see their favorite insurance company mascots in between advertorial from Ann Curry and Matt Lauer; and as many Peanuts specials as I could find on air.

I had already seen Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, the Peanuts movie that debuted on Fox last night, because the DVD has been out since spring. As a huge Peanuts fan and purist, I was fully prepared to hate it, because it was the first Peanuts movie made after Charles Schulz’s death, and let’s face it, the franchise had been on a decline since the ’80s. (You can never un-watch Flashbeagle.)

But the hourlong special was, with some qualifications, pretty satisfying. At heart, the story is strong because it’s closely based on the original source material: the various story arcs involving Linus, his blanket and his blanket-hating grandmother. I’m a sucker for anything Linus-centric, anyway; he’s Peanuts’ sweet, neurotic soul, and no other cartoon character had made modern anxiety and dependence so likeable.

The special kept the beats of the original stories, and carefully re-created the musical and animation touches—with faithful scoring by Mark Mothersbaugh—that make the series distinctive. (I loved the fact, for instance, that even in a brand-new special, the Van Pelt family still has a rabbit-ears TV set from the early ’60s. Either it’s period loyalty, or all the Peanuts kids parents are extremely devoted mid-century-modern collectors.)

As a Peanuts obsessive, I have some kvetches, of course. The adapters felt it necessary to update the new special with some self-consciously contemporary movie-like touches that rang false. Whereas the Peanuts specials and movies have always gone for a straight-ahead linear narrative, for instance, Happiness started with an in medias res opening, with Linus digging a giant hole to find his blanket, then working backward to find out how he got there; it was not quite Christopher Nolan’s Peanuts, but it was jarring all the same. Likewise, the special built to a climax (spoiler alert!) in which Linus showily called out the other characters for their own various “addictions”—Schroeder’s piano, Snoopy’s supper dish—with what felt like weirdly 21st-century intervention-style movie language (in a series that was always about 1950s-era Freudian psychology). And it included some nods to classic Peanuts strips—including the very first one ever to run—but incorporated them in a flashback structure that felt more like something from a modern sitcom.

But at heart Happiness showed that the core stories of Schulz’s comics still hold up after half a century. And if I seem to be devoting way too much serious thought to an entertainment for kids—well, that’s exactly what a childhood of reading and watching Peanuts trains you to do.

What did the other Peanuts obsessives in Tuned Inland think of the special? And what other holiday TV did you consume along with your bird and/or tofurkey? Your thoughts, and recipes, welcome, and have a great holiday weekend.

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