If, like me, you’re a diehard fan of all things Peanuts and Charlie Brown animated specials, you’ve seen the 1974’s Emmy-nominated It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!. When my friends at Bill Melendez Studios found some great art from the special, I thought it might be time to not only feature the art but talk about the history of the cartoon. The image of Snoopy bounding through the grass doing the happy dance and offering painted eggs to all the children of the neighborhood and frolicking with bunnies runs in my head on repeat this time of year.
Of course the origins of Easter are based in the pre-Judeo-Christian pagan worship of the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Oestre. As part of a festival dedicated to the renewal we see at Springtime, eggs, which represented the dawn of Spring, were buried and eaten. As with many other traditions adapted by Christian missionaries, Oestre was celebrated as a way of encouraging conversion. In this case, eggs were symbolic of the renewal through Christ’s resurrection, and new life given through the forgiveness of original sin.
Many pagans and Christians mark the holiday with Easter traditions like egg hunts, fancy hats and dress, and family gatherings for a feast. In Catholicism, that feast means the first time many can eat and drink what they gave up for Lent, which originally included eggs, because dairy products weren’t eaten during Lent. Many give up wine and chocolate (or alcohol and sweets, if you prefer), and Easter is the first time they can indulge in these delights! In the US and Europe, that’s partly why there’s so much chocolate that has made its way into Easter celebrations.
Painted eggs have been traced back over 2500 years, when the ancient Persians painted them for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In the 12th century, England’s King Edward I gave over 450 eggs painted with gold leaf to his relatives during the Spring season. In 17th century Germany, gifts to children and Easter egg hunts became popular. Queen Victoria popularized the tradition by having egg hunts and filling artificial eggs with candy for the children. The US got into the spirit by having its first Easter egg roll in 1878, during the presidency of Rutherford B Hayes. Interestingly, though the Easter egg roll was meant to be secular, some imbued it with the symbolism of the rock being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, allowing followers to see he had been resurrected.
Cut to Peanuts and Charles Schulz. As is clear from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Schulz was Christian. His faith and spirituality had a big impact on his work from the beginning. As examined in Stephen J Lind’s book “A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz”, more than 560 of his Peanuts strip contain a spiritual, theological, or religious reference, with 40 that directly mentioned prayer. His first animated special in 1965 explored ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, with Linus famously quoting from the bible, a rarity for a primetime cartoon special. One of the beauties of the Peanuts strip and of its creator is he believed there were many paths to the sacred, including many outside the Christian faith. He also valued joy and kindness, and showed it through is characters and stories, especially those involving Snoopy and Charlie Brown. So it makes sense that in 1968, he introduced another of Snoopy’s alter egos, The Easter Beagle.
His first appearance in the strip was April 14th, 1968, but it wasn’t until April 11th, 1971 that he was called The Easter Beagle:
The strips that made up the story of the Easter Beagle is what they used to construct the 1974 cartoon, which was the 12th Peanuts animated tv special, and the 4th to commemorate a holiday. It was first broadcast on April 9th, 1974.
If you know the special, you know there’s a scene where Snoopy dances, holding the paws with a circle of bunnies. Those bunnies are based on the Snoopy’s favorite (fictional) storybook series, “The Bunny Wunnies”, written by Miss Helen Sweetstory. They were first introduced on July 26th, 1970.
Here he is in the special. No, I haven’t seen any cels of these sweeties in about 20 years, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it onscreen and continuing my search for them!
Notice in the above scene, when he approaches the Bunny Wunnies, he happily shouts, “Hey!” It is one of the only times Snoopy ever speaks in a cartoon.
One of the most joyful sequences in all of animation, here’s Snoopy delivering painted eggs as the Easter Beagle. The music that accompanies him is not by part of the score Vince Guaraldi created for the special. It is the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A Major.
We got a small and very wonderful selection of original production cels from It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown to sell from the Bill Melendez Studio. You can find some of them in the above clip! If you love It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, seek out these images before they sell. You can find them all now on our site for a limited time, at a special Easter price, HERE.
All of this is to say, this time of year is a time of celebration. I’m writing this blog during the Pink Full Moon, which for pagans is a big deal, and also a time of renewal and new life. For Muslims, Ramadan has been going on since April 1st, and will continue through to May. Whether you are pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, a secular humanist, or atheist that just loves Snoopy dancing with bunnies, may you find joy in your weekend safely, and perhaps even with the aid of Snoopy as the Easter Beagle in this timeless Peanuts classic cartoon.
You can watch It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown on Apple TV. While you’re there, check out the new Peanuts special, just released on April 15th, created in commemoration of Earth Month and in time for Earth Day. The cartoon features a charming new song by Ben Folds, part of which you can hear Sally singing in the trailer:
With Halloween coming, it’s the perfect time to talk about the Art of Snoopy in general, and Snoopy as the World War 1 Flying Ace specifically, because the Flying Ace made his first animated appearance, in all his heroic glory, in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown right before Halloween on October 27th, 1966. Of all animated characters ever, Snoopy is my very favorite. In part, it’s because my dad read us the comic strip when my sisters and I were little. We had all Schulz’s books of published Peanuts strips in both French and English. We weren’t alone. Peanuts had fans all over the world. By the 70s, the Peanuts strips had been translated into 21 languages and sold in over 75 countries. You can read a hilarious take on how the French fell for Peanuts in this archived article from 1975 in the New York Times.
We watched the special together as a family before I could even talk, and I’ve watched it every year ever since. Of course I remember the rest of the cartoon, like Charlie getting a rock, Lucy wearing that gaudy lime green mask, and Linus showing he was and always would be an eternal optimist. What struck me though, and made it most memorable, was the sequence with Snoopy climbing up on his Sopwith Camel and fearlessly fighting the Red Baron.
There’s very little distance in time between when the Flying Ace was introduced in newspapers on October 10th, 1965, and his inclusion in Great Pumpkin barely a year later.
Schulz created this incarnation of Snoopy just months after the US started sending troops to Vietnam. At first it wasn’t the plan to parallel Snoopy’s trials with the goings-on in Vietnam, but in time he began using the Flying Ace and his challenges as a means to express his opinions about the horrors of war. He himself had been drafted into World War II, so he had a lot of compassion and empathy for the soldiers over in Vietnam. In fact, he had to leave his mother, who was suffering with cervical cancer at the time, to report for duty, and she died only a few days before he left for basic training. From very early on, soldiers would use images of Snoopy the Flying Ace on their equipment, and created banners and patches of the character in various guises. They proudly carried or wore them as they attempted to survive what must have been hell on earth.
Snoopy was introduced to the Peanuts comic strip on October 4th, 1950, with his first interaction with Charlie Brown happening on October 10th of the same year.
Schulz came up with the name because his mother said if they got another dog, they should call him Snoopy. Little did she know part of her legacy would be naming one of the most famous fictional dogs in history! Snoopy’s first appearance landed shortly after the US entered the Korean War on June 27th, 1950. Peanuts had been nationally syndicated in 1950 and started getting really popular in the late 50s. By the mid-1960s, it became the most widely read comic strip in history.
There are references about the Korean war early on in the strip’s continuum, as exampled by this strip from May 3rd, 1954.
There are lots of inspirational stories about Snoopy from the Vietnam war. One of the best is one in which his name was used for a frequently airborne canine mascot that a sergeant in the 554 Recon Squadron kept in Vietnam. This sergeant related that Snoopy had repeated scuffles with a very territorial mascot pup of the 388th squadron, coincidentally named the Red Baron. Snoopy flew all missions with the 554th squadron, but his frequent flyer status changed when his owner Robby Robinson, who survived his time in the war, went home. He went on to live a full civilian life riding in cars, boats, and motorcycles in Michigan, California, and Texas, and died an old pup in 1980.
Other references to Snoopy as the Flying Ace include a psychedelic band that used the name Sopwith Camel. They were one of the first San Francisco psychedelic bands to record for a national label.
In 1966, the boys in a band called The Royal Guardsmen were inspired by the character from the comic strip for their song ‘Snoopy vs the Red Baron’, which sold 3 million records. It debuted at #122 on the ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100’ on December 10th, 1966, and peaked at #2 on The Hot 100 the week of December 31st, 1966. It’s interesting that Great Pumpkin, which debuted Snoopy Flying Ace, was released in October, and the Royal Guardsmen released their song in December of the same year.
Schulz was not amused. He and United Features Syndicate sued the Royal Guardsmen for using Snoopy’s name without permission. UFS won, and all the publishing revenue from that song went to them. Schulz did let the group write more Snoopy songs, though, like this Christmas song ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’, which appeared on the album ‘Snoopy and His Friends’ in 1967.
As far as the art of Snoopy as the Flying Ace goes, it’s nearly impossible to find. Part of why I was inspired to write this blog is because we got one from a Rival Dog Food Company commercial dating back to somewhere between 1969 and 1973.
Rival has a fascinating and storied history. In 1932, they were the first company to promote canned dog food, when most folks were still happy to just feed their pups table scraps. Rival held their products to a high standard (which included NOT using horse meat in their formulas), creating food nearly up to human standards. It helped transition dogs into the house to be treated as family members. Rival dog food was so well-made that when the US entered World War 2, Rival stopped creating dog food and pivoted to create rations for the troops. Their plant was already operating under government inspection, meeting the stringent requirements for canning human food. Rival ultimately shipped over 200 million cans to US servicemen. They continued successfully through several company shakeups, and in 1973 were sold to Nabisco, ringing the death knell for the famed brand. It was in the late 60s and early 70s that they enlisted Snoopy to promote their brand, with the last materials being created in late 1973. You can read all about Rival HERE.
Here is the one limited edition available celebrating Snoopy as the World War Flying Ace:
That brings us to my favorite Peanuts cartoon featuring Snoopy. It’s the absolutely classic animated feature Snoopy Come Home, released in 1972. I watched that cartoon many times, but what had even more impact on me was the board game I used to play with my sister, Joëlle. We used to sing “No Dogs Allowed” repeatedly while playing it.
Though our game was thrown away in the 80s, I guess, I finally bought a replacement when doing research on this blog. It should be here any day!
Snoopy Come Home has lots of special features unique to it as a Peanuts release. First, it is one of the only Peanuts animated cartoons not using Charlie Brown’s name. It’s also the only Peanuts film released during his lifetime with music composed by someone other than Vince Guaraldi. The music is all created by famed Oscar-winning duo, Disney Legends Robert and Richard Sherman. The producers figured that since this was a full length feature, not a TV special, it should have a feel that was different from the specials. You know that ‘No Dogs Allowed’ song? It was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who is also famous for singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ in the 1966 tv movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Here is a video featuring the many voices and songs of Thurh Ravenscroft. He was wonderful and prolific!
Snoopy Come Home also features the on-screen debut of Woodstock, Snoopy’s BFFF (Best Fine Feathered Friend) which you can see the original trailer leverages, using music by the Sherman Brothers.
My friends who work with Bill Melendez Studios (Bill created all the traditionally animated cartoons based on Schulz’s comic strip) scoured their archives for something special for me to offer, as we enjoy the Halloween holiday and enter into the Christmas holiday season. I specifically asked for older Snoopy art, and they did not disappoint.
Speaking of the art of Snoopy, here is a production cel featuring nearly every major character from the Peanuts specials, also including some really hard-to-find secondary characters. In fact, this scene is quite historic. It is the first appearance EVER of Franklin in animation. It includes the original cel setup and the layout background from the scene.
We also have one-of-a-kind rare cels of Snoopy and Woodstock from these scenes:
And we talked them into going into their archives, and letting us sell their very last piece in this very sold out limited edition, “Home Coming” from Snoopy Come Home.
Which you can see in the last scene from the cartoon:
One of the most endearing qualities of Charlie Brown, and why we all relate to him, is that he is an eternal optimist. He doesn’t think much of himself, and some folks can relate to that, too. Creator Charles Schulz made the character, not only in his own image, but in that of the everyman. The latest art release in the Peanuts Lexicon Series, “Chomp: Charlie Brown vs. The Kite-Eating Tree” really captures Charlie’s positive perspective, as he faces defeat once again, with that ‘stupid’ Kite-Eating Tree chewing up his kite and ruining the prospect of his and Linus’s kite-flying fun. Given the last 18 months we’ve all endured, Charlie Brown is all of us, and like Charlie Brown, we’ll make another kite and go out again to fly it tomorrow and every day, until the wind raises it to the sky.
The Kite-Eating Tree, a favorite of Peanuts fans, has a long and storied past. In his strip, Schulz considered it one of the series’ 12 major set pieces. Inspired by his own experience losing kites into the trees of his childhood home as well as when flying them with his kids, the first time he mentions a kite getting caught in a tree is way back on April 12th, 1956. Then Charlie names his nemesis the Kite-Eating Tree on March 14th, 1965:
The kite-eating tree went on to great popularity, and Schulz created a number of strips featuring the non-human character.
In January of 1969, the Kite-Eating Tree showed his truly voracious appetite in a series in which they ate Schroeder’s piano:
The Kite-Eating Tree appears again in 1977, on February 22nd:
As part of this storyline, Charlie Brown bites the tree, after which he gets a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lucy says he’ll get ‘thrown in the slammer’.
The last appearance of Kite-Eating Tree was on a Sunday strip on February 26th, 1995:
Given its popularity, It was inevitable that the Kite-Eating Tree would be featured in Bill Melendez’s animation of the Peanuts stories. The first cartoon from Melendez was of course the Christmas Special in 1965, but the Kite-Eating Tree made its first appearance in the opening sequence of 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Here is a layout drawing showing the character with Charlie:
Here is the opening sequence from the cartoon. Interestingly, the parts with the grinning tree were cut out of the version that plays on Hulu (where you can stream the cartoon if you have an account)
The limited edition was designed by Director of Art Development Sandy Thome, who works with the BIll Melendez Studios, and Emmy-winning animation director Larry Leichliter. It is inspired by an original drawing that Schulz sent to Bill of Schulz as Charlie Brown, which was tacked up in the studio for many years. There’s a great story that goes with it…
Larry Leichliter explained it when I spoke to him about the new piece.
“There was this gag with a kite-eating tree. There was a cartoon, a single strip, that was part of the inspiration for the limited edition. The story is that Bill would send out a small Christmas gift to just about everybody that he knew at Christmas time, and it was something simple, like a T shirt, or a little letter opener, or some some little gadget of some kind. One year he made a kite with “Bill Melendez Productions on it, and sent it out. Everybody really liked them, because they were they were fun to play with. Pretty quickly, Schulz sent back this cartoon showing him posed as Charlie Brown looking up at his tree with his string going up to the tree, saying ‘That stupid tree ate my Melendez kite’, and the tree is saying, ‘It tasted like a taco.’ Obviously because Bill Melendez was Mexican.”
Larry Leichliter, speaking to Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights in September of 2021.
What’s really cool from my perspective as gallery owner, is that, having worked with the Bill Melendez Studios for many years, I’ve gotten dozens of Christmas gifts. They’ve sent them every year, and I’ve loved them all. We’ve gotten an umbrella, a phone stand, a notebook, a backpack, a measuring tape, a hat, a puzzle… I’m not even remembering the weirder items. I never knew the tradition was based on the one they had in-house, and now I appreciate them all the more.
Here is the Chomp limited edition cel and the accompanying giclee of the ‘making of Chomp’ graphite drawings made and signed by Larry:
As usual, Larry drew many many drawings in an effort to capture the mix of incredulity and frustration on the face of eternal optimist Charlie Brown. There’s a ton of nuance that goes into the design, and lots of back and forth between Larry and Sandy, both of whom worked for years with Bill Melendez. They really want to capture the essence of both Bill’s directive as director of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and Schulz’s character design. There are dozens of permutations before they choose the final possibilities. Here are a few that didn’t make the cut:
I asked Larry, how the development of the limited edition progressed, and how it came together:
I think the first correction I made to it was the size of the tree, because when I first drew it, I drew it way too small in relation to Charlie, and I realized that he could just strangle the tree and pull it down, so I made it bigger! Then I decided to add the teeth and that sort of thing. All the time, I was working on his expression and his attitude. There was a lot of back and forth between Sandy and I, about what what would be the best pose? And at some point, we added Linus I mean, originally, it was just going to be Charlie Brown, and the tree, and the word CHOMP, you know, because we wanted to do this small series of limiteds as a tip of the hat to Schulz by putting these words across the screen. He would put mostly sound effects, or kids laughing, which we used on the first limited edition…the letters onscreen were used pretty often by Schulz, and it was fun when it translated to animation. We really liked doing them.
Larry also talked about his challenges in creating just the right image for Chomp:
Charlie Brown had so many expressions connected with his moment when the kite gets stuck in the tree. There’s frustration, and disappointment and distrust and even outright anger. But mostly it’s just, ‘poor old Charlie Brown’. Resignation. So I was trying to get a dismayed look, because the grimace and the sidelong glance just didn’t seem quite right. Also, at some point, we decided to add Linus to it. Just because Linus is Charlie’s support. In the process, we just try one expression, one drawing after another, until something seems to fit.
As far as the difficulty in drawing Charlie Brown in general, Larry had this to say:
It’s gotten to where it’s not that difficult. Really, Schulz had a great designing sense, and once you kind of tap into it, then you know when you got it right, and when you don’t. He definitely has a different look when he’s facing forward and when he’s in profile, and there are certain proportions, of his hand to his body, the height of his legs and the width of this neck, things like that, that you get used to. One thing is I try to face him towards the camera if I can, because I think most people like that, and I like seeing Charlie Brown looking at the world, but in this case, the profile seemed to work best, so that’s what we went with. As far as what I enjoy about it is just, that, again, the design Schulz has for this character, there very few characters where the design makes them so easy to draw. Another one is Mickey Mouse, and of course he’s iconic as well.
Of course, I figured I’d might as well ask about animating Charlie Brown, as well.
As far as animating Charlie, he really isn’t that easy to animate, because of certain things like the shape of his head, and how it changes when he turns, but then all of the Peanuts characters are like that. They have a different design in profile than they do straight on. There are techniques that you can use in animation to fool the eye into not seeing how the head changes when a character turns. Then there are other things, like the fact that they have very short arms. What do you do if you want him to scratch his nose or take his hat off, all places that his arm won’t reach? You have to stretch his arm to do that. There are ways around it, which Schultz, in many cases, has already thought out for you, and all you have to do is refer to his work. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll see something that will inspire you to to do it in a way that Schulz would approve.
But why stop there? I asked which characters WERE the hardest to animate.
The hard ones are the ones that you don’t get to draw very often. Like Frieda, for instance. She’s got all this crazy, curly hair and animating it, trying to keep it from just wiggling all over the place, can be a challenge. That challenge can distract you from what you’re trying to do in the first place, which is animated character with some personality and movement. But the more you work with a character, the easier it becomes. Linus is difficult, partly for the same reason, his hair can be very distracting, but also the shape of his head. Linus, Lucy, Frieda, and Schroeder. There are two different head shapes, basically. There’s Charlie Brown’s head shape. And then there’s Linus’s head shape. All of the characters have one or the other. I would say Charlie’s head shape is a little easier to work with than Linus’s. The most difficult is Snoopy, believe it or not, but he’s also the most fun, because both drawing him and animating him is a challenge.
The Peanuts Lexicon Series is really about celebrating the collaboration between Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz and director and animator Bill Melendez, who, along with his team of artists, translated Schulz’s work into the beloved classic cartoons we love.
When I spoke to Sandy, she explained that Charles Schulz was integral to the development of story for Peanuts animation. He always got writing credit for the shows and specials, but it wasn’t a vanity credit, he was really involved in creation.
Mr. Schulz would show Bill strips he’d worked on, and they’d create the storyboards from those strips. We still have a lot of copies in our archives that really represent the seeds of the animated shows.
Sandy Thome, speaking to Leslie Combemale on September 27th, 2021.
Larry added his thoughts on the origins of both the Lexicon Series, and Chomp.
The Chomp kite-eating tree limited edition was actually an amalgam of a couple of shows. Everything really goes back to Schultz and his strip. When we were doing the shows, we were constantly referring to his strip, because one thing that everybody realized early on was that he really enjoyed working on the shows. Bill would go up and meet with Schulz, and the two of them would hammer out a story and Bill would come back and we’d work on the board together. Just the fact that Schultz enjoyed the process of filmmaking as an extension to his strip, I think, which made us more conscientious about studying his work and understanding his drawing, and his characters, and sense of humor…all those things. So you’ll see a lot of his strip in our shows. And that’s why.
Here are two interviews. One that shows Schulz’s personality on an interview with Dick Cavett, and the other that captures Bill Melendez, who famously was considered one of the nicest people to work for in all of animation, as interviewed by animator and historian Tom Sito.
I wanted to go back to the cartoons and find a few examples of those scenes where they interpreted Schulz’s use of lettering. There are many more, and I bet you can even guess some of the expressions (like POW! and Snoopy’s howl OOOOOOoooo!), but I just wanted to give you folks a sense, so I found moments from the below specials, and made screen caps. The only one I can get for a collector is the Snoopy image. The rest have been sold for over 2 decades. There are only a few cel levels with words for each scene, so Sandy explained that once she put together about 4 cel setups, the scene was gone!:
I was fortunate enough to get some original drawings and cels that capture Charlie Brown’s struggle with the Kite-Eating Tree. If you’re interested in buying any of them, you can find them all, along with all our currently available Peanuts are, HERE.
And remember, whether you can relate to Charlie Brown, the Kite-Eating Tree, or both, you can buy the limited edition for $1700 HERE. There are only 50 pieces in the edition and will sell out quickly, so get to it if you are so inspired!
Meanwhile, can YOU guess what the third limited edition after Chomp will be in the Peanuts Lexicon Series? They won’t tell me, so I don’t know, but there are lots of great choices, and I can’t wait to see what they release!
Write your thoughts about Chomp in the comments, and don’t hesitate to contact the gallery via email (artinsights at gmail) if you have any questions.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all stay as positive and optimistic as Charlie Brown is. It comes in handy and is the best possible trait when times are tough!
There’s a ton of great Peanuts content on AppleTV+. Have you checked it out? There’s a new Snoopy show which is about to have another season, and a mocumentary on Peanuts and NASA called Snoopy in Space, and even older shows and tv specials you might not have seen. Just released is a new documentary the chronicles the life and work of Charles Schulz called Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, which is an official documentary created with the blessing of his family. Narrated by Lupita N’yong’o, it includes interviews with his wife Jean Schulz, as well as famous folks inspired by the comic strip and subsequent animated specials and shows like graphic artist and author of “Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts” Chip Kidd, directors Paul Feig and Kevin Smith, and tennis legend Billie Jean King.
The documentary has a score by composer Jeff Morrow, who has worked on all the new Peanuts shows and specials on AppleTV+. It’s quite an honor to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of the great Vince Guaraldi, who created the wonderful, iconic music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, among many other Peanuts scores.
Guaraldi grew up inspired by his uncles, who both headed jazz big bands in San Francisco. Early in his career, he worked with famed vibraphonist Cal Tjader before going out on his own, releasing music that would have kept him in obscurity had a DJ not played a B-side with Cast Your Fates to the Wind on it, which garnered him a Grammy Award. Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson heard Cast Your Fate while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, and sought out Guaraldi to compose for a documentary on Peanuts called A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963. It was the start of a long career composing for Peanuts specials. Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, which was his 8th studio album, is consistently one of the top selling Christmas albums every year to this day, and is in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry. His last recording for a Peanuts special was for 1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. Only several hours after finishing the recording, Guaraldi died suddenly of a heart attack just moments after leaving the stage of a live performance..
Following Guaraldi, composer Judy Munsen stepped in, working alongside Ed Bogas to create music for specials like What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, and It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. In 2000, jazz pianist and producer David Benoit released the memorial album Here’s to You, Charlie Brown, in recognition of Charles Schulz’s passing. He was involved variously in recording interpretations of Guaraldi Peanuts songs and creating music for specials. Benoit also played piano for the recent The Peanuts Movie, on a score with a mix of music by Guaraldi, and new compositions for orchestra created by Canadian composer Christophe Beck. That’s where Jeff Morrow comes in.
Morrow had been working with fellow Canadian, Emmy and Annie Award Christophe Beck, when Beck began work on The Peanuts Movie. It was through his mentorship with Beck that Morrow got the gig as the new composer for all things Peanuts. I spoke to Morrow about what inspired him to become a composer (animation fans will love knowing it involves The Lion King), how the self-ascribed music geek got into the business, and why Peanuts characters are all the inspiration he needs to create music that fits right into the discography for the iconic property.
ArtInsights:You have said you’ve always been really into film music. What scores were or are the favorites that influenced you?
Jeff Morrow: When I was really young the one that I feel like hooked me was The Lion King, by Hans Zimmer.The music is high emotion. Very dramatic. It was the first time I remember really noticing music in a film. I was nine years old. At that point in my life I was very nerdy and into classical music. I think when I was in third grade I said my favorite music was Mozart. You know that the score for The Lion King actually gets quite classical times, in the part where his father dies especially. It could be Mozart, it’s very much in that sort of vein of music.
Then as I got older, I got really into the more classic stuff for a while, like Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest.
The way I got into film music was, I didn’t actually grow up thinking I wanted to be a film composer, because I grew up in Toronto. I didn’t know anyone who was a film composer, so I didn’t really think of it as a thing I could do, until until much later after I had a bit of a career going as a professional musician. Being a composer, it helps that I’m just very much into all kinds of music. I was definitely, for one period of my life, a total jazz snob. Now I’m very omnivorous in what music I listen to.There’s a Duke Ellington quote where he says, “there’s only two kinds of music, good music and bad music.”
Tell me how you got involved in scoring for Peanuts in the first place, which was on The Peanuts Movie working with Christophe Beck.
I had a sort of career going in Canada, scoring kid TV shows and some TV commercials and little low budget films, short films, and features. And then, through this program at the Canadian Film Center, I met Chris down here in LA, in a meeting. We sort of hit it off and and I kept in touch with one of his assistants. Two years later I got an email saying, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember me? We need help. Do you live in LA?’ And I said, ‘No, but I can live in LA. Just give me two weeks.’ And, yeah, two weeks later, I was down here in LA. I was making coffee for Christophe for a couple of weeks, and then he asked me to write something, and he must have liked it, because from at that point on, I was co-writing with him, and ended up getting to write a bit of music for The Peanuts Movie, which was amazing. It was recorded at the Fox stage here in LA, with the 80 piece orchestra.
So how did you connect with Apple for the new Peanuts projects?
Wildbrain and Apple, this is now a number of years later, were getting together to produce all of this new peanuts content, and through Chris I was recommended for for the job. That’s basically how it happened. They asked me to demo. I got together 3 of my now-favorite musicians, but people I just met, into an incredible jazz trio, Ryan Shaw, Jordan Siegel, and Trey Henry. We got together in the studio old school, with everyone of the same room like they used to do, not all of us sectioned off in booths. Apple and Wildbrain loved the demo, and I got the job. So the first thing I did was this little mockumentary for NASA. Jeff Goldblum and Ron Howard were in it. So I thought that was it was kind of a fun way to start. Also, given that Vince Guaraldi actually started scoring Peanuts with a documentary, it seemed like perfect symmetry.
The way that you connected with Christophe Beck and stayed in touch, is that sort of similar to the way you packaged your little demo and took it to Eggplant Productions in Canada? That shows some pretty impressive determination.
Yeah, a little bit, I guess. I feel, of course, very privileged to grow up with supportive parents who encouraged me to do that kind of thing, and whatever cultural norms that suggest that I should be doing that, because I know not everyone has that sort of opportunity to get out there and be connected with some of these people. I just put together a jazz CD of my weird trombone music, googled “music production, Toronto”, and then dropped it off at a few places. The local newspaper in Canada actually did like a little piece on me getting a job there called “Cold Calls Lead to Hot Jobs”.
The first thing you must have been thinking about for Who are you, Charlie Brown? was how to work with a very famous existing music. Also, here you are creating music the story of Charles Schulz, that’s a big deal. What was your strategy from the beginning?
I knew I wanted to sort of pay homage to the sound of The Peanuts cartoons. I kind of the thought was if it was on in the other room, you would recognize it as being in the same world as what you’ve heard. The music Guiraldi wrote for the original stuff was written for kids. I don’t mean viewers, I mean, it’s written for the characters. This documentary is a story about a real life of an adult human. So it needed definitely a slightly different approach. The starting point was the instrumentation, with piano, bass and drums, but then expanded on that to include cello, flute, and clarinet, then vibes.
A number of cues start with solo bass, which is great.
Using bass is a good way to get in under people’s voices. It’s a very supportive sound. If someone’s talking and the bass comes in, you can get into a piece of music without it really announcing itself so much.
There’s definitely inspiration to be found in Guaraldi’s work.
Exactly. It’s not like Vince Guaraldi came up with this stuff in a vacuum. The reason the music sounds like it does is that he wrote it based on the characters. They’re simple kids, but there’s a profoundness to most of them. If I sat there at the piano trying to come up with the next Peanuts Guaraldi theme, it would be too much pressure. So I was mostly thinking about their characters, like Charlie Brown and Linus, and about how serious or philosophical they are. In terms of Schulz himself, he’s just such an empathetic guy, which is why his characters have so much depth to them. It becomes clear in the documentary that when he’s in the room with someone, he’s fully understanding them and picking up on characteristics from them. He’s clearly a person who notices people and takes it all in. I was just thinking about that and what, musically, could represent that?
With your jazz trio, was there a lot of improvisation on the way to creating the cues?
Always. It’s one of the great joys of working on this whole Peanuts world is working with these amazing musicians, just to let them loose on on some of the stuff. These days, working on a film, usually your computer demo is very accurate to what the final is going to be. I had to have a pact with the directors and producers the beginning. In order to get that indescribable vibe you can get from musicians in a room improvising together, it’s gonna be slightly different than what the computer demo sounds like. Thankfully, everyone’s been really receptive of that. It’s such an amazing thing to write a framework for the musicians in some of these cases, and then just watch them bring it to life. As composer, there’s this sort of knob that I turn towards improvisation and then back towards the more compositional throughout, to track the story.
You’ve said all your scores have a concept behind them. What was the concept behind Who Are You, Charlie Brown?
Well, I find especially with documentaries it’s nice to box yourself into a certain set of parameters. I find you end up with something much more interesting. It’s definitely more of a challenge for me, but that’s where it gets fun. So in the case I knew I wanted it to be this small ensemble score, and I want to be able to accomplish every emotion or feeling required within that instrumentation. The piano bass, drums, vibes, cello, flute, and clarinet, that was my limiting factor, basically. It was essentially my imagining The Peanuts band got together, invited a couple of friends, and then had to score a documentary, but those were the only tools they had. No symphony orchestra or synthesizers.
You’ve worked with Henry Jackman and Christophe Beck. What did you learn from them that you’ve taken with you and has informed your work?
What I discovered working with people like Chris and Henry, who have done this for a long time, and been very successful, is that when they get a note from a director, or producer, editor, or assistant producer, they really take it to heart. It’s actually quite impressive. If they just spent the last week working on this couple of minutes of giant symphonic music, and then someone says, ‘I don’t think that’s really working’, they have no ego about it, which is a skill that I feel requires a rewiring of your brain. You can’t just wake up one morning and be totally cool with any kind of changes people want to make to your music. It’s a skill that has to be developed over time. With them, that’s one of hundreds of different things, but as an example that’s something I learned from them. What it allows for in the creative process if that’s your perspective, going into a project, is that it’s really a collaboration.
What was your understanding or experience with Peanuts before you started composing for the property? Did you listen to the Christmas music growing up?
Of course, I listened to it every Christmas growing up, and, you know, became a jazz musician. So there’s definitely something there that inspired me in my life. That music is up there with Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It’s certainly as or maybe even more famous.
How has your perspective on the characters changed since you’ve been working on the Peanuts scores?
It’s just such a thrill and a privilege to be able to work in this world with these characters. To get to write music for them is means I get to dive into their personalities a little more. I just feel like I have a much deeper understanding of where they’re all coming from, and have empathy for them. I might have found Lucy a bit annoying as a kid. I don’t feel that way now.
Who is your favorite character?
Well I would have said Schroeder, because he’s a musician and plays piano like I did when I was a kid. I was a little bit of a Schroeder at some point as a kid, a bit snobby about music. I’m much more in the Linus camp now. I love his soliloquies and his general philosophy.
I love Franklin, and in the documentary you really learn about the impact he had on pop culture and on Black Americans who saw themselves on tv and in the comic strip.
I learned about that from watching the documentary when I was working on the score. Speaking to Schultz’s empathy, to present just a kid with no fanfare when he was introduced, which is, I think, a beautiful thing, and then he gave him huge both a humility and a realness that just placed him in the scene without fanfare but just smart, good friend. I spent a lot of time on the piece of music that goes with that segment of the documentary. , It’s a very important moment. These characters so compelling that if I’m tracking what they’re doing, and their emotions, and how they are onscreen, then it makes the job enjoyable. There’s always hair being pulled out, but it’s very enjoyable.
Are you working on anything right now?
I’m actually working on more Peanuts music, because there’s a lot more great stuff coming to AppleTV+. You and your readers will have to stay tuned because you’re going to love it!
You can watch Who are You, Charlie Brown?now on AppleTV+. The score by Jeff Morrow for Snoopy in Space is available now on Apple Music, with the score for Who are You, Charlie Brown? coming soon.
Emmy-award winning director and animator Larry Leichliter spends every morning hiking with his Australian shepherds for hours, in part to take in the beauty of nature that inspires him, in part to exercise and invigorate his all-too-smart canine best friends, Ben and Olive. He has always had dogs in his life. It’s no wonder, then, that he loved the over 30 years he spent animating Charlie Brown, his anthropomorphic beagle Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang at Bill Melendez Studios.
Born in May of 1941 in the LA area, Larry spent his childhood, as many did, watching cartoons like Betty Boop and Popeye and reading the funny papers, where he fell in love with Peanuts comic strip. A reserved and introspective kid, he resonated most with Linus in particular, appreciating his loyal friendship with Charlie Brown and his musings on life.
In school he was good in math and loved to draw, but it didn’t occur to him he could be an animator or filmmaker until he was in high school. Once he got the idea into his head, he committed to going to a college where he could study but also take art classes. He went to Berkeley and UCLA, studying math and psychology, but by far enjoyed his art classes the most.
A great influence on his work and love of animation was when he went to the Tourney of Animation at the LA Museum of Art and saw the work of German abstract animator and filmmaker Oskar Fischinger. Fischinger was creating abstract animation years before anyone else, and was a huge influence on the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment of Fantasia.
Here is An Optical Poem from 1937, which he created for MGM.
Another animator that inspired Larry’s career aspirations was another German animator, avant garde artist Lotte Reiniger, whose work was also represented at the Tourney. Lotte is most famous for her silhouette animation, with her 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, thought to be the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, considered her masterpiece. Once again an example of a female artist being relegated to the footnotes in history, you animation fans should get to know her and her work. Without her, there might have been no multiplane camera!
Larry got his first gig in animation at Hanna Barbara in late 1969, and was there in the early 70s, where he worked as assistant animator on cartoons like Scooby Doo, Harlem Globetrotters, and Josie and the Pussycats. He found this introduction into the world of animation exciting, because not only did he work with artists of amazing talent, but it was his first time working with people from all over the world, and from a wide diversity of cultures. He says it felt very freewheeling, and the artists there had very individual perspectives and artistic visions, refusing to be pigeonholed. He recalls them playing a game where they yelled out “FRUIT ROLL”, and would roll pieces of fruit all the way through the studio from one section to the other. He worked with some of the greatest animators in history, including Iwao Takamoto and Bob Singer.
After a stint at Hanna Barbara, he followed a lot of fellow artists to Ralph Bakshi’s studio, Ralph Bakshi Productions, and worked on some of the animator’s edgy, some would say notorious underground projects in the early 70s, learning from folks like MGM Tom and Jerry animator Irv Spence the great Looney Tunes artist Virgil Ross.
It was in 1974 that Larry found his home at Bill Melendez Studios as an assistant animator under Bernie Gruver and Al Pabian. The first cartoon he worked on there in 1974, was Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, which debuted on CBS on January 28th, 1975.
Here’s a cute scene that captures his two favorite characters to animate, Linus and Snoopy:
It was feast or famine at Bill Melendez, as was often the case at animation studios, and Larry got laid off, so being a lover of nature, he took a cross-country bike trip, touring America and stopping to visit family and friends at various points across the US. When he was done after three months, the studio was ready for him again, and back he went with his old pal Al Pabian, to work on It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, again as assistant animator, which means he cleaned up key drawings, did the in-between drawings, and whatever else was needed. It was with 1977’s Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown that he first got animator credit, which means he had to animate a certain number of feet of film in order to qualify.
There’s a delightful scene that captures the ‘wave’ of feminism happening in the late 70s, as well as the mellow confidence we know and love from Snoopy and Woodstock.
At the same time, it was at Bill Melendez Studios where Larry was able to take advantage of an offer through the Local 839 Animation Guild union, and go to art school, since the union would pay a percentage of the tuition. He went back and forth for some years animating some and assisting on other projects, with Larry’s absolute favorite Peanuts special What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown and our special anniversary cartoon It’s Magic, Charlie Brown being examples of the latter.
Larry explains why he has such a soft spot for What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown, “The reason is, at the time we were making that show, my wife Cathy and I were guest hosting Japanese foreign exchange students at our house. As part of their time there, I would bring the group of them to the studio and give them a tour, and then we’d all watch a cartoon. That cartoon was easy to watch, because it didn’t have a lot of dialogue. They just loved it. What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown has a very different look, too. Part of that is the style of Tom Yakutis,, who did a lot of the backgrounds and designed a lot of the look of that show. The story itself is quite a departure for Snoopy.”
Here is a gorgeous series of drawings created for the Golden Book version of What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown:
Larry animated over 30 Peanuts cartoon specials and tv show episodes as animator. What it took for him to become an animation director was for him to leave and direct projects elsewhere, so that Bill and his crew could see him in a new light. He then went on to direct in partnership with Bill Melendez himself, as well as on his own, for Peanuts specials, and shows like Hey, Arnold, SpongeBob Squarepants, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, for which he won an BAFTA, and Over the Garden Wall, for which he won a Primetime Emmy.
Larry has been designing limited editions for Sopwith Productions, which archives Peanuts animation and sells the official art for Bill Melendez Productions since 2013, with Snoopy’s Dogfight. For his first design, he drew so many storyboards and images that he filled a section of wall wider and taller than he is! His challenge and the fun of these designs, Larry says, is maintaining the integrity of the drawing and animation styles of the many animators he knew and respected during his tenure at Bill Melendez Studios.
When asked the hardest challenge in animating the Peanuts characters, Larry explains, “The biggest problem in Peanuts is turning from profile to front on, because the two poses are slightly different anatomically, like the eyes in relationship to the nose and mouth. The shape of the head is different in profile. To do a head turn was hard. One of the first things I learned as an in-betweener was not to turn the head straight, but turn it with a slight dip or some kind of an arc. The advantage of doing that was you wouldn’t see things shift in alignment.”
Want to learn more about Larry and hear stories from his career animating Peanuts cartoons? Larry Leichliter is taking part in an anniversary celebration of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, which originally aired on April 28th, 1981.
We’ll be interviewing him and putting the interview online for fans and collectors to see. We’ll have an exclusive pre-release of the new limited edition designed by Larry Leichliter from the cartoon, and with any art we sell, whether it be limited edition or original production art, collectors will get a hand-drawn image of Snoopy or Snoopy and Woodstock signed by the animator. You can see all of Larry’s art HERE.
WE WILL SEND OUT AN EMAIL BLAST AT 7pm EST APRIL 28th
WITH LINKS TO ALL THE EXCLUSIVE ART
so make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter!
For more information or to see all the art available, contact the gallery at artinsight at artinsights dot com!
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts animated special “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown“, which first aired on April 28th, 1981, ArtInsights is having a (virtual) special event! It will feature Peanuts cartoon animator and director Larry Leichliter.
We will have exclusive original animation art from It’s Magic, Charlie Brown as well as rare production cels and drawings from the history of Peanuts animation, and premiere the new limited edition from the Charlie Brown special!
There will be an interview with Larry Leichliter via Zoom, which will be posted on our ArtInsights YouTube channel, with links on our website, and a collection of art available for purchase, with hard-to-find scenes and art from your favorite Peanuts cartoons.
The new It’s Magic, Charlie Brown limited edition and the exclusive original production art will posted and available starting at 7pm on April 28th.
We’ll send out an email blast at 7pm EST on the 28th, so make sure you’re on our mailing list, or set your Snoopy alarm clock for 6:59pm!
If collectors are interested in particular images, they can contact the gallery via our email with inquiries. The collection will include some cels with original backgrounds, as well as rare original illustrations from the book versions of various Peanuts specials.
The limited edition will go live and be available at 7pm EST on April 28th. There are only 50 pieces in the edition, and it’s the first in a series, so you’ll want to snap it up if it grooves you, because it will only get better as the releases continue!
It’s Magic Charlie Brown tells the story of Snoopy as he finds a book of magic and becomes fascinated, learning to do tricks, which he first tests on his pal Woodstock. He then performs for the Peanuts gang, which is met with mixed results. Charlie Brown is called up to the stage, Snoopy does a magic trick that makes him disappear, which is successful. A bit too successful, it turns out, because he can’t seem to bring him back. Cue the lit sign saying “METAPHOR” above the poor guy’s ‘block’head.
The rest of the special is about Snoopy TRYING to bring Charlie Brown back, and failing that, giving him a way to be recognized as present, like caking him with mud so he can be seen. The special has a wonderfully classic scene involving Lucy and Charlie Brown and a football. No, he never ever learns. The beauty of Charlie Brown is he is an eternal optimist. I don’t want to ever see him lose his trust.
Beethoven turns 250 in December. We don’t actually know the date of his birth, but we do know he was a December baby. Since Schroeder has had a passion for the composer since he was able to put his fingers to a keyboard, we asked the folks at Sopwith if there was any special Peanuts art celebrating classical music. Guess what? YES THEY DO! So now we have Peanuts Beethoven art just in time.
MetLife, which has a history with the Peanuts characters in their commercials, created one of their best in which all our most beloved Peanuts characters are featured. Now there’s Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang in production art from the commercial, and it’s a unique opportunity to get Snoopy, Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Marcie, and Franklin, plus a bunch of other great characters in one production cel. There are also some gorgeous production drawings and some color keys that go with them. Also there are some great production cels of Schroeder and Snoopy together performing, and Snoopy conducting with the sort of passion you’d expect from everyone’s favorite beagle.
What’s most interesting is the fact that Bill Melendez Studios got the same budget for these 15 second or 30 second commercials as they did for a 30 minute tv special! That explains how beautiful and detailed this Peanuts production art is. They had so much time to do their very best!!
You can find the Peanuts Beethoven art on the Peanuts page HERE, and if you love listening to or playing classical music or playing in an orchestra, this is a unique opportunity.
Here are some of my favorites:
I wish we could find the actual commercial, but we haven’t luck yet, but I called them and hope they’ll go through their research and send a copy of it at some point. Still, I have NEVER seen all these characters together in a production cel, so this is a musical win for us all!
ArtInsights is so excited about the new release of Peanuts animation art, which celebrates the long history of collaboration between Peanuts and NASA. This new collection includes “Mission Control: We’re Ready for Assignment” The NASA Space Station limited edition of 50, and original production cels from the Peanuts animation featurette, which is the 4th episode of This is America, Charlie Brown, originally released in November of 1988, way before what was ultimately the International Space Station was up and running with a crew. I guess you could say that Charlie Brown, his friends, and his dog Snoopy were technically the first to man (and dog) the Space Station!
Even with all the darkness of the pandemic and police brutality in the news and on our minds, the anticipation and thrill around the SpaceX launch was high, and offered a brief respite from our country and world’s formidable struggles. Elon Musk has a goal to decrease the cost and improve the reliability of access to space, and as anyone who watched the Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule take off, orbit, and dock at the International Space Station, which is only the first leg of their journey. This test flight was to certify that SpaceX spacecraft is safe to start making routine trips to and from the space station for NASA, which as relied on Russia for that task since 2011, when space shuttle flights ended. At this moment, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are on the space station with current commander and NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy. This new mission will be considered a complete success when Behnken and Hurley come home in the Crew Dragon. If all goes to plan, the next mission will be to carry 3 NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency to the space station.
It started in the 60s, when Charles M. Schulz allowed Snoopy to become the mascot for the NASA’s spaceflight safety initiative. Schulz also created comic strips of Snoopy on the moon, to excited the public about the US space program. Then Charlie Brown and Snoopy became mascots of Apollo 10. They named the command module Charlie Brown, and the lunar module Snoopy. The NASA website explains, “In May 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts traveled to the Moon for a final checkout before lunar landings on later missions. Because the mission required the lunar module to skim the Moon’s surface to within 50,000 feet and “snoop around” scouting the Apollo 11 landing site, the crew named the lunar module Snoopy. The command module was named Charlie Brown, Snoopy’s loyal owner.” In fact, when the lunar module rendezvoused with the the command module, astronaut Thomas Stafford said, “Snoopy and Charlie Brown are hugging each other.”
Even now, NASA astronauts give an award to employees and contractors for outstanding achievements in human flight safety or mission success called the Silver Snoopy. The award includes a sterling silver Snoopy lapel pin that has been flown during a NASA mission, a commendation letter which includes on what mission the pin was flown) and a signed and framed Silver Snoopy certificate. It is a high honor for those who receive it.
In 2019, NASA and Peanuts Worldwide celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 10’s launch with a collaboration that ‘shared the excitement of science, technology, engineering, and math with the next generation of explorers’. NASA provided support for new Peanuts programs that focus on modern-day Astronaut Snoopy and space themes.
Most notable is the new show on Apple TV+ “Snoopy in Space”, which had its release on the premiere day of the streamer in November.
If you have AppleTV+, you can watch the whole 1st season now, which, by the way, got a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been nominated for 4 Daytime Emmys. Here’s a trailer:
There’s also a 10 minute documentary short, directed by Oscar-winner Morgan Neville, and starring Ron Howard and Jeff Goldblum called Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10. It features archival interviews of two of the three Apollo 10 astronauts, Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan, as well as an interview with current NASA flight director, Ginger Kerrick. It too has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy!
So, for many reasons, this is the perfect time for a release of Peanuts animation art celebrating Snoopy in Space, Space Exploration, and the ongoing connection between Peanuts and NASA. This new art is from the 1988 featurette, This is America, Charlie Brown: The NASA Space Station.
In This is America, Charlie Brown: The NASA Space Station, the plot is based on Linus having a dream about being part of the Space Station after working all day on a school project about it.
In it, Linus imagines the Space Station commander as Lucy, (showing once again the progressive side of Peanuts) with Space Station operations run by Snoopy, Linus himself as the official scientist onboard, with five spacecraft specialists including Peppermint Patty in charge of exercise, Charlie Brown as cook and photographer, Sally and Pig Pen as experiment specialists, and Franklin as social scientist researching how the crew reacts to living in space for 90 days.
The NASA Space Station Peanuts limited edition is made with 22 paint colors and 3 ink colors and special wash effects to recreate Pig Pen’s dust, and it takes days to complete each individual piece of art. The background is a reproduction of an original background used in the original featurette.
This new limited edition was designed by animation director, Larry Leichliter.Using artwork from the studio archives, including publicity drawings, original key pose sheets and anoriginal background, Larry designed the Character Layout drawing for the animation celsand the Key Pose Model Sheet.
You can find buy or learn more about the new NASA Space Station Peanuts limited edition “Mission Control: We’re Ready for Assignment” by going HERE.
What is fascinating about Charles Schulz and his strong, long-lasting connection with NASA is how he was so committed to space exploration, and getting the public involved. Not only did he create the space-related comic strips that sparked his collaboration, then allowed his characters to be used for Apollo 10, he got involved in promoting the NASA project to construct a permanently crewed Earth-orbiting quite early. Reagan approved the Space Station Freedom project in 1984, and This is America, Charlie Brown: The NASA Space Station premiered in 1988. That was a lot of faith in the project coming to fruition. Basically, he was following the philosophy of “If you build it, they will come”, only the animation came first, and the space station followed… but then again, everyone follows Snoopy!
Lee Mendelson spoke about Schulz’s commitment to the project:
“They were building the station when Bill and I visited there in Houston. Nasa warned me that it might never work. I asked Sparky if we wanted to take the chance to do a show about a subject that might not ever happen. He said, “Absolutely. We have to back the efforts of these people.” He had great confidence as was proven earlier when he let Apollo 10 use Charlie Brown and Snoopy with the great risk involved If it failed.”
After budget cuts that put the project on hold, several times when the whole project was almost completely scrapped, the Clinton Administration announced the transformation of Space Station Freedom to the International Space Station, with Russia becoming part of the project. The first components of the ISS were launched into orbit in 1988, with the first long-term residents arriving in November of 2000.
The Peanuts characters worked on the space station all the way back in 1988, a full 12 years before NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko of Roscomos began their residency on the orbiting laboratory. In a way, Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Franklin, and Snoopy were the space station’s ‘real’ first residents!
There are also a very few great This is America, Charlie Brown: The NASA Space Station Peanuts production cels available. Here are a few we have right now, and please contact us via email to check availability for all Peanuts animation art.
I love knowing that Schulz and his wife Jeannie went to NASA in the late 90s for the opening of an exhibit on Peanuts and NASA that was proudly on display there. The Space Administration genuinely loved Charlie Brown and the whole Peanuts gang.
Perhaps it seems odd or even in bad taste to think and talk about cartoons during such troubled times. For some, that may be true. But I’ll finish this blog about space, NASA and Peanuts with a very personal story. Many of you know I’ve had the gallery for over 27 years. Earlier in our time being open, my 16-year-old sister was killed in a car accident. She died right in the car, before she could even be taken to the hospital. I was at the gallery at the time, and my father had to call me and tell me the news. It was one of the worst days of my life. For a while, it was really hard to come into the gallery, and sit surrounded by animation and film art. It didn’t take very long, however, to discover that these pop culture references, these nostalgic, joyful images put things in perspective. I could look around and be surrounded by joyful memories, and it helped. It really did. It’s in the joyful living that we express why it is so important to be free, be healthy, and be safe. The fact that we can and do actively reach for joy is why it is important to stand up for those who can’t. Whether it is the risk of sickness or the risk of bodily harm, we owe it to folks at risk to stand for them. We owe it to those who are no longer here to embrace joy wherever and whenever we can. If that’s watching a Snoopy cartoon, or the SpaceX launch, so be it.
With that in mind, here is Snoopy doing the happy dance at the COVID Comfort Cartoon:
We are always looking for extremely rare art to offer our clients, but hand-in-hand with that, we are always trying to find ways to promote and expand awareness about the importance of artists.There are so many important figures in the history of animation that fans and enthusiasts know little about, and we want to change that! That’s where Dean Spille comes in…
He is just such a luminary. Dean Spille, concept and background artist for Bill Melendez Productions, is the official background artist for all the Charlie Brown and Peanuts films. Indeed, he is responsible for the color stories, the graphic design, and the finished look of Peanuts TV specials all the way from the beginning.He worked on A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in 1968, and continued to influence these classics all the way to the TV short He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown in 2006. AND WE JUST GOT ART CREATED BY THIS AMAZING ARTIST!!
At first, Bill Melendez, in his desire to give credit to the many contributors on A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dean was listed as doing “graphic blandishment”, which is code for concept artist, background artist, or any other element not yet isolated as deserving of its own credit.He was named as production designer for over 20 shows, shorts, or tv specials between 1977 through 2000, and as often credited as color stylist as well.
A scene from from Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, which is the inspiration for one of the 3 originals we are offering:
Given that the art Dean created is from his nostalgia and memory, it’s amazing how close this is to what was used in Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. He certainly has the French village vibe down, not least because he’s lived in France for over 40 years! See his art below:
Inside the animation industry, Dean Spille is widely regarded as one of the most celebrated, talented concept and background artists in history.It’s impossible to extricate the evocative, inventive backgrounds when considering the look of the beloved Charlie Brown TV specials, and they are all thanks to Dean.
Though native to California, he’s been living in France for over 40 years, and is now 92.Imagine my thrill and excitement when we were offered an extremely limited collection of original Peanuts watercolor paintings by this treasured artist of the animation world.We aren’t even sure if we’ll get any more than these three, all of which were created by Dean from his recollections of his contributions over his career with Bill Melendez Productions on the Peanuts cartoons.
Who doesn’t remember the scene with the kids out trick-or-treating from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?
The art Dean Spille created is below. Classic!
If you’re a fan of animation art, Peanuts, or the Charlie Brown specials, these are exceptional, rare originals that represent an essential element of the beloved cartoons.We may have them in-house briefly after selling them, and we’ll post about that on our Facebook page, but in the meantime, as we only have three to sell, contact us soon if interested in any or all of them!We won’t be putting them online for purchase, but rather will sell them to those who contact us, since there only 3 and are one-of-a-kind.
What a wonderful palette Dean created for this scene! The original he created is below, and it may be my favorite. Dig his subjective use of color, and how well it works, or how well we recognize it from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving!
We really want to find Snoopy lovers, those who watched the animated specials as kids (or with their kids!), and art aficionados who get excited by the opportunity to have an original by an artist who is so important to animation history!
MORE ABOUT DEAN SPILLE:
In the fifties, Mr. Spille began working with Bill Melendez at Playhouse Pictures, a studio created by innovative artists who made up UPA. Peanuts’ television endorsement of the Ford Falcon, created at Playhouse Pictures, was the beginning of a partnership and friendship that lasted a lifetime for Melendez and Spille. After leaving for Spain in 1963, Dean returned to find that Melendez had created his own studio. Spille worked on the first three specials while teaching design at California State College, Long Beach. Later a sabbatical from teaching took Spille to live and work in a small town in the hills of Provence. Working on “Babar the Elephant” and later “Dick Deadeye”, he also continued working on the Peanuts films, while splitting his time between Los Angeles and France.A definitive move to France was made as an additional project was in the works, the Emmy winning “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Dean Spille was, without question, an integral contributing artist to the success of Bill Melendez Productions, Inc.
Dean’s academic studies began at UCLA where he earned his BA in Cinema, furthering his studies at California State University earning his Master Degree in Fine Art. Dean continued his studies at the Accademia Delle Belle Arte in Florence, Italy and at Kokoshkaschule in Salzburg, Austria. Dean is also a former professor of Art at the California State University, where he taught Graphic Design and Animation. Today, he devotes his time to painting, and sells his traditional imagery throughout Europe, where he is known and celebrated for both his animation and fine art works.
We just discovered we have a few super rare and hard-to-find Peanuts limited editions created for the anniversaries of the Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown TV specials. Given how much we at ArtInsights love all things Snoopy and Charlie Brown, it’s like we got an early Valentine’s Day gift!
What a coincidence. Fans of the beloved Peanuts animated cartoons just celebrated the anniversary of the first airing of the 1975 Peanuts TV special Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown.Although there are over 40 animated TV specials created over the years through Bill Melendez’s studio, many fans actually remember a few of them really well.For me it was Snoopy Come Home, for which I had the board game, the Valentine special, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. As an adult, I can to love this weird one that it turns out is the favorite of many of the animators who worked on multiple films for Melendez, What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!. However, we can all agree that A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are the most classic, right?
MELENDEZ AND MENDELSON MAKE TV MAGIC
Beyond the fact that the Peanuts Christmas special was a huge deal in that it was the first time the comic strip characters by Charles Schulz were translated to animation, it was also the first religious-based animated special to ever be played on tv, and offered a wonderful jazz score by Vince Guaraldi.This cartoon has been played during the holidays every year since it played in 1965. The music was also a huge success, selling millions of copies.At the time, A Charlie Brown Christmas was seen by 45% of those watching television in the US.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown quickly followed the Christmas special in October of 1966, although it was the third, not the second, coming after Charlie Brown’s All Stars in June of the same year. It was nominated for an Emmy. Longtime Peanuts specials producer Lee Mendelson, (who brought Schulz and Melendez together to translate the Peanuts comic strip into a cartoon, among many other important roles in the history of Peanuts specials) was outvoted in the discussion about Charlie Brown getting rocks instead of candy.He wanted him to get his fair share.Apparently the audience that year agreed with him, sending the character thousands of bags and boxes of candy to Melendez’s animation studio!
My childhood is filled with memories of watching the specials with my dad.We also played my Snoopy Come Home board game a lot together.We quoted lines from all the cartoons and the comic strip, and I’d even say seeing them every year influenced my going into a career selling art and promoting the artistry of animation.
It was quite an experience the one time I got to eat dinner next to Bill Melendez at an event some years ago, only to discover what a wonderful sense of humor and quick wit he had.I had already heard he was famously a great boss, according to many people in the industry who had worked at a number of studios.In the interviews I conducted more recently, that compliment was repeated by everyone who had ever taken part in the creation of the Peanuts specials or any other Melendez studio project.
ANNIVERSARY PEANUTS LIMITED EDITIONS
2015, the anniversaries were coming up for both the Christmas and Halloween specials.The company connected with the Melendez family and his studio, who sells all things Peanuts and Bill Melendez Studio related in terms of art, planned a big event to celebrate with Peanuts art.They spent a long time, with the help and design artistry of Peanuts specials director Larry Leichliter, creating an anniversary collection of Peanuts limited edition cels.There were only 65 and 66 in each editions.When the first piece was released, we all called those folks who had always bought art when the company released art.They were allocated, so each gallery could only get a few of these A Charlie Brown Christmas limited editions and the It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown limited editions.(I think I got as many as any gallery was allotted, with 6 of each edition).Those who bought the first one, got right of first refusal on each subsequent piece so they could match the sets.So some said yes to them all, some skipped one, and so it went.
My Peanuts collectors tend to leave their art with me for a while and come in only a few times a year.One thing led to another, we did inventory, and POOF! We actually have a few Peanuts Charlie Brown and Snoopy limited editions (and of course some with the whole Peanuts gang!)available for sale!Imagine my surprise!
Anyway, this is all to the benefit of big Peanuts fans who will fall in love with these images.The largest Christmas and Halloween limited edition cels each took weeks to complete, there was so much hand-work involved.If you think they look cool online, they are truly spectacular in person!We look forward to a fan or a few fans who grew up with the cartoons and Peanuts comic strips like I did winding up with these pieces.They can bring them home as a wonderful, nostalgic reminder of holidays gone by.Or rather, holidays to come, because they will be playing these Peanuts TV specials every year until our great-grandchildren think they came out for them!
In this blog are all the images of the pieces we have.Click HERE to see them all, or on each image for more information for those specific pieces.
Remember if you love Peanuts and the Charlie Brown TV specials, there are some original production cels available from a number of cartoons you’ll remember we get directly from the Bill Melendez Studio. None from the Christmas or Halloween specials, but we’ve found a few choice ones for fans from Snoopy Come Home, several Valentine specials, and others that would excite you. Contact us!
We’ll leave you with this an interview I did with the producer Lee Mendelson, talking about the history of the Peanuts cartoons: