Coming up to the start of a brand new year is always fraught with expectation, and yes, that seems to hold true even for Charles M. Schulz’s wonderful creations in his immortally iconic comic strip Peanuts.
Even 21 years after its creator’s death, Peanuts holds a place close to many peoples’ hearts, with a lot of its appeal coming down to its sheer relatability and thoughtful humanity, something which is on full display in the latest TV special to feature Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the gang, Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne.
Only the third Peanuts special to not feature Charlie Brown in the title – the other two being Snoopy!!! The Musical (1975) and Snoopy’s Reunion (1991) – and the first since Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown which premiered in 2011, Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne centres on three very important characters, each of whom are struggling with the flipping of the calendar to a new year.
Charlie Brown (voiced by Etienne Kellici) as you might expect isn’t happy with the state of his life.
While he started the year with a huge list of hoped-for achievements, many of which were, and here we have to agree with the Lucy (Isabella Leo) the psychiatrist (who’s still charging 5c a session), a tad too ambitious, he’s heading towards December 31st all too cognisant of the fact that he won’t really bring any of them to fruition.
Once again, the poor guy feels like a big, fat failure.
He’s not, of course, but so eager is he to get at least something on his list of things done this year that he agrees to Lucy massively lowering expectations so that one of his items now reads something along the lines of “do something remotely creative”.
But what? What can he find to do in that weird period between Christmas and New Year where time stops and everything happily feels like a Salvador Dali painting meeting meets a fever dream?
Well, he won’t do it by watching Citizen Kane, a film he’s determined to watch until Snoopy’s siblings arrive – Spike (Rob Tinkler), Andy (Mark Edwards), Marbles (Corey Doran), Olaf (Rob Tinkler) and Belle (Katie Griffin) – and riotous hell breaks loose, with first Sally (Hattie Kratgen) and then the littermates taking over the beanbag and the fast-diminishing bowl of popcorn.
A chance to rescue things comes when Lucy decides to host a new year’s party that she names, as only she can, Lucy’s Gala: A New Year’s Eve Celebration of Elegant Perfection! and which she is determined which will be best Lucy-centric party ever held.
While the title prompts a running gag about being a “mouthful” among invitees including Peppermint Patty (Lexi Perri), Marcie (Holly Gorski), Schroeder (Matthew Mucci), “Pig-Pen” (Jacob Soley) and Patty (Natasha Nathan), among many others, Lucy works hard, well to be fair much put-upon, blanket-clutching Linus (Wyatt White) does, to make this party the best egoboost for his sister ever.
But, of course, things do not go according to plan, largely due to Lucy’s desperate need to control everything, and the party ends less with a bang than a whimper, leaving the host feeling less adorable and loved than she’d hoped for.
On face value, Lucy’s behaviour in Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne looks like that of a narcissistic brat and nothing else; she won’t people just enjoy themselves because she needs the party to validate her worth as a person and that can only happy if it happens her way, and her way alone.
Or can it?
This being a Peanuts special, with as much heart as its comic whimsy and visual charm – Woodstock (Rob Tinkler) is a delight as always, flitting here and there with mischievous glee and a Polaroid that doesn’t quite meet Spike’s expectations of a happy snap of his siblings – we are made privy to the fact that Lucy is feeling sad and unloved after her grandmother fails to turn up for Christmas.
Lucy loves Christmas with her grandmother, what with carolling and baking and storybook reading and takes her absence, which isn’t explained – adults exist on the periphery, as always, in the world of Peanuts – very personally, her depression allowed full vent as everyone parties around her, even on Christmas Day.
There is a vulnerability to Lucy, and indeed all the lead characters in this special, which includes an achievements-less Charlie Brown and a sentimental Spike who simply wants one photo with his siblings even as it continually eludes him, and it adds a lot of emotional resonance to a special which manages to be sweetly retro without once feeling out of step with present humanity.
There is an affirmation throughout the special’s final act that belonging and being loved are things that come unconditionally and that while sometimes people might lose their way and either try to force that love or force its documentation, that it will eventually out and everything will work out okay.
Peanuts great strength, and it’s on glorious display all through Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne is that it doesn’t pretend life is trouble-free – Charlie Brown gets bullied and feels like a failure, Lucy feels unloved and neglected and Spike wonders why his siblings don’t value their time together as much as he does – but that sometimes our greatest enemy is our perception of what’s going on around us.
We get caught up in our quite valid feelings and forget how loved we are and how good our lives actually are – it’s all part of being human, a state which comes with flaws aplenty, few of which are thankfully fatal – and Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne acknowledges that while pointing to the fact that we are doing just fine and we are loved and everything will be fine in the end.
The joy of it is that, as in the comic strips, this is a not a facile or sentimentally trite message.
It carries real weight, and as we enjoy nostalgic touchstones such as Sally sighing and saying “My Sweet Babboo” whenever she sees Linus, or we laugh empathetically at Schroeder’s exasperation with Lucy’s intense adoration of him, we are hit in the heart more than once by characters who have always known that whimsy and emotional weight go hand-in-hand together in life.
Watching Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne makes the heart feel glad and joyously restored, not simply because we’re spending time with characters we love in a setting that charms and reassures us, but because we see ourselves in everyone present, especially Lucy, Charlie Brown and Spike, all of whom come to understand one very special if chaotic New Year’s Eve that they are cared for and loved and the year ahead is going to be just fine.
Snoopy Presents For Auld Lang Syne is currently streaming on Apple TV+