Not for lack of trying, beloved American comic strip “Peanuts” character Charlie Brown never gets to kick a football, thanks to his perpetually deceptive playmate, Lucy Van Pelt.
It seems that every time Lucy sets the ball on the ground and urges Charlie to kick it, she pulls it away just before he makes contact. The devious stunt causes poor Charlie to kick at mere air and land on his back, confused and mortified.
The memorable scene is one of many in the animated 1973 holiday classic, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” no doubt airing on TV screens this holiday season. The film features realistic characters created via the genius of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz.
To many of us, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is an heirloom passed from one generation to the next. Its appeal? The fact that most of us have encountered -- and probably will encounter -- a Lucy or two in our lifetimes. Therefore, we feel compelled to share the film and its subtly endearing lessons to those who follow us.
As one noted biographer writes, in the “Peanuts” comic strip, the football setup is always the same…
“From first (1952) to last (1999), each setup of the football encouraged Charlie Brown to one more act of determination and, ultimately, martyrdom,” writes David Michaelis, author of “Schulz and Peanuts - A Biography.” *
At the end, Schulz piques our interest with a new twist.
“In the very last of the annually recurring setup... Schulz took his creation into a new century by pulling the football away from Lucy...and from the reader himself…,” Michaelis writes.
In that particular strip, we never learn what happens when Lucy allows fellow character Rerun to hold the ball for Charlie Brown. Schulz leaves it up to our imaginations to finish the scene and its implications.
A shrewd student of human nature, Schulz encouraged us to see ourselves in the character of Charlie Brown: hopeful for the best outcome, disappointed when it eludes us... and willing to take another crack at it when all is said and done.
That’s classic Schulz on a recurring subject: life.
*“Schulz and Peanuts -- A Biography” by David Michaelis. First edition published in 2007 by Harper. Available for checkout at MidPointe Library.
The accompanying blog photos can be found in the above biography:
A cousin holding the football for a young Charles Schulz
A 1930s photo of Schulz and the family dog, the model for Schulz’s Peanuts character Snoopy
A 1950 advertisement for Peanuts.