Charlie Brown and Friends Celebrate the Environment

Jean Schulz talks about how Peanuts has long cared for the Earth.

Charlie Brown and Sally with dandelion

"It's the Small Things, Charlie Brown" / courtesy of Apple

Charlie Brown has had a bit of a frustrating relationship with the Earth. There’s that aggravating tree that always eats his kite. And one time his friends turned his beloved baseball field into a garden.

Through the years in the comic strip and in TV specials, the Peanuts gang has long cared for the Earth. And now this month, there are two new nature-related specials featuring Charlie and his pals for Earth Day and Arbor Day.

“It’s the Small Things, Charlie Brown” airs on Apple TV+ starting April 15 and there’s a new short animation in the "Take Care" series called “We Need Our Trees," launching April 12 on The release coincides with the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day this year.

In the first, the kids are ready for the neighborhood baseball tournament when things grind to a halt. Charlie’s little sister, Sally, bonds with a dandelion on the pitcher’s mound and it threatens the big game.

“Small guys like us, we ought to stick together,” Sally tells the dandelion. “Don’t worry. I’ll look out for you. I promise.”

Sally protects what others call a “small, insignificant weed” and (spoiler alert!) it becomes the motivation for the gang to make good changes to their environment.

The Earth-friendly theme isn’t new. Early on, the characters sometimes misunderstood the workings of the natural world. Lucy, for example, was insistent that the Earth has 48 suns. And Snoopy and Linus diligently planted a garden. But they planted it with French fries.

Peanuts is also sharing educational content for students in kindergarten through sixth grade for Arbor Day, focusing on the importance of trees to people, animals, and the Earth. Peanuts is part of a continuing global tree-planting initiative with the Arbor Day Foundation and SOS Mata Atlântica, a nonprofit protecting the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Projects also include restoring forests in Nepal, planting trees in Chicago community gardens, and replanting forests destroyed by fires in Oregon.

Jean Schulz, widow of Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schulz, talked to Treehugger about how Charlie Brown and his pals and their creator (aka "Sparky") have always been aware of and cared for the environment.

Treehugger: In Peanuts, we see so many themes, like friendship and resilience and acceptance, but Mr. Schulz has been quoted as saying that Peanuts was “about nothing.” How would you describe some of the themes that you thought were always there?

Jean Schulz: I would say themes are friendship and living. You could say that in Peanuts you learn to live a good life, you learn to get over your hurts, and you learn to forgive your hurts. I think when he says it's about nothing, he means that it's not about any one thing that you can put your finger on.

Peanuts comic strip where tree eats Charlie Brown's kite

Peanuts Worldwide

It was pretty early in the ‘70s where he started mentioning the environment and the human impact on the Earth. Was this a conscious decision, or was it just kind of reflecting his own interests and feelings?

One of the first themes about the environment is Lucy telling Linus things and, of course, she tells him the wrong thing. And then he'll discover [the truth] or she'll brush it off. So it's always done with humor. Even feeding the birds. They throw the bread crusts out to Woodstock and he goes "blech" because he doesn’t want garbage to eat.

I just did a little talk going through an exhibition at the [Charles M. Schulz] museum and there’s a sweet picture of Sparky as a three-year-old or four-year-old with these big eyes. You can look at little kids sometimes and they’re not doing anything or saying anything but they’re just taking it all in. And when I saw that picture, that's what I said. That's Sparky, taking it all in. He sees how the relationships go on in the house and how there’s always somebody who has to be the person who knows everything … and then there are other people who just kind of sit on the outside and take it all in.

So I think it was never, “I'm going to write this and it will make people think differently.” He really did what entertained him. And the whole thing about Charlie Brown’s kite in the tree and the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] coming after him, that came out of news stories. It was in his consciousness but it wasn’t a conscious attempt, "I'm going to write a series of strips that will make people think about nature."

Charlie Brown and Lucy and tree

"We Need Our Trees" / Peanuts Worldwide

With the two new features, why is now a particularly important time for Peanuts to discuss the environment?

Peanuts Worldwide developed the “Take Care” initiative before the pandemic. They thought that it was time and it was really the marketing people within Peanuts who realized that Peanuts could do something in a world that seemed to need to refocus on taking care: a little bit away from me-ism maybe and to thinking more broadly about society, the Earth, about everything. That initiative began and sat somewhat dormant at the beginning of the pandemic, then became really robust and we began working on these short “Take Care” videos. With our partnership with Apple, they’re doing longer videos but focused on our classic Peanuts themes.

It’s always appropriate, it’s always been there, but this seemed like a time we could do something significant. It feels good in our Peanuts world to think that in addition to selling T-shirts, we can sell people on the idea of reforestation. I’ve been to Nepal and I know they cut down the forest there for fuel because that’s what they have to use. When I was there, there was a very small patch of forest up about 11,000 feet or so where we were that was being reforested. I still have this picture of a little postage stamp of trees that have been planted and have grown. 

Jean Schulz
Jean Schulz.

Peanuts Worldwide

Mr. Schulz said that he was a little bit of every character he created, not just one.  What about you? Did you have a favorite character or a character you relate to the most?

Sally came into the strip before I came into Sparky’s life. But he gave Sally two expressions that I say: “poor sweet baby” when he complained and “my sweet babboo.” So I am a little bit like Sally, not quite knowing what’s going on. I don’t talk to buildings, but I might.

I wanted to also emphasize the curricula that we're doing for schools K through sixth grade, and I think that's wonderful that we're giving our Peanuts content to the schools to get a little more attention.

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