Has Snoopy lost his COOL?

  • Article by: Neal Justin
  • Star Tribune
  • October 29, 2007 - 9:30 AM

Emily and Hanna Devaney, ages 10 and 8, are two of Crossroads Elementary School's most dedicated history buffs. While the St. Paul students love the Cheetah Girls, Hannah Montana and Harry Potter, they're also obsessed with good ol' Charlie Brown.

Put the emphasis on ol'.

The "Peanuts" crew was born in 1950, which means Linus Van Pelt soon will be trading in his security blanket for Social Security. But the characters are still active stars in today's pop culture scene. Around 2,400 newspapers still carry the strip, even though it's been in reruns since Charles Schulz's death in 2000. That's a drop of just 200 subscribers from its peak.

"We considered dropping 'Peanuts' after Schulz died, but we asked our readers if they wanted us to continue running the old strips," said Peter Bhatia, executive editor of the Oregonian in Portland. "The answer was yes, and we still are running them."

ABC still airs seven animated "Peanuts" specials a year, and Warner Bros. just bought the DVD rights for the dozens of related cartoons with remastered rereleases starting in January. During New York's Fashion Week in September, top designers showed off outfits inspired by their favorite "Peanuts" characters. At Target, the "Champ Snoopy" bedding for cribs is one of the top sellers in its category. In 2005 Urban Outfitters sold out its line of "pathetic" Christmas trees.

But these success stories have more to do with adult interests than with what kids want. For them, Snoopy is about as relevant as Rin Tin Tin.

It doesn't help that Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America was replaced early last year by Nickelodeon characters or that the market is now flooded with cable hotshots like Diego and Jimmy Neutron. A new video game aimed at the younger generation, "It's the Big Game, Charlie Brown," recently ranked 10,328th in sales at At Target, sales of Charlie Brown titles have fallen behind Dora the Explorer and Elmo.

"A generation change is happening here," said Dan Gonsior, co-owner of the Minneapolis clothing store Uber Baby and the father of a 4-year-old boy. "Our little guy isn't exposed to Snoopy and Charlie Brown. For him, it's SpongeBob and Jimmy Neutron. There's a huge swing."

Crossroads' main hallway features a replica of Snoopy's doghouse, a nod to the fact that Schulz grew up in St. Paul. But the school library contains none of his books. In Hanna's third-grade class, only two of the 27 students have ever heard of the cartoonist.

Connecting generations

"Kids have so many choices now that Charlie Brown is getting pushed off to the side," said the girls' mother, Kathleen Devaney, a paraprofessional at the school, who sometimes tells her students that she's having a "Charlie Brown kind of day" and gets only blank faces in return.

The 20th century's favorite blockhead still has a prominent place in the Devaney household. During a recent evening, the family related their favorite "Peanuts" moments -- Snoopy pretending to be a python, Marci struggling to boil eggs, Peppermint Patty struggling to finish a book report -- as Hanna did her version of Snoopy's happy dance across the living room.

If nothing else, the nostalgia trip is a way for the girls to connect with their parents.

Every holiday, the Devaneys watch the related "Peanuts" special three times before opening presents or sitting down for Easter brunch, often with the extended family crowded around the TV set. On a recent weekend, 17 of them -- including the grandparents and a 5-year-old cousin, watched the video, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," which inspired Mom to reminisce with her siblings about how they used to call each other "blockhead" and how, on more than one occasion, she'd pull the football away from her brother.

"Because the adults are watching it, the kids are more drawn to it," said their father, Sean Devaney, a senior lab technician at H.B. Fuller. "If they were watching by themselves, they'd get bored pretty quickly."

Kathleen, who keeps a Charlie Brown doll above her dresser, hopes to expand the fan club later this year by introducing third-graders to "Peanuts" books through her after-school reading program.

"Some people might not think kids should be learning by reading comic books, but you've got to offer them a wide variety of material," she said. "You've got to find ways to introduce them to reading."

If "Peanuts" really wants to win over new fans, maybe Charlie Brown should turn away from the red-haired girl and start mooning over Dora the Explorer. It'd be a match made in merchandise heaven. • 612-673-7431

Neal Justin •

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