Franklin gets the spotlight in new 'Snoopy Presents' special

The Apple TV+ movie also addresses the recent viral debate about the Black character's seating in a 1973 Peanuts Thanksgiving cartoon.

"Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin" premieres Friday. Image courtesy of Apple TV+
"Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin" premieres Friday. Image courtesy of Apple TV+

NEW YORK, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The creative team behind Welcome Home, Franklin says their new Snoopy Presents animated special is intended to give a backstory to a beloved character who has been part of the Peanuts gang since 1968.

"It's meant a lot to me because I'm in the business every day and I hear the response from the fans on what characters they want to know more about. Franklin has always been at the top of the list," writer and executive producer Craig Schulz, son of the franchise's late creator Charles M. "Sparky" Schulz, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"Here, we get to see Franklin and tell his whole story from his journey from the inner city to the Midwest, down Route 66, passing all of those iconic places and landing in the crazy town of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and Linus and the pumpkin patch, and then we get to explore how they can bond," Schulz added.


"That was a story I've wanted to tell for a long time and, finally, the time was due and then we get to release it on Apple TV+ [during] Black History Month, which couldn't be better."

Premiering Friday on Apple TV+, the origin story finds new-kid-in-town Franklin Armstrong trying to make friends ahead of a local Soap Box Derby competition.

"It's a big deal," co-writer Robb Armstrong said about Franklin -- the only major Black Peanuts character -- being the star of the show.

In the 1990s, the elder Schulz, Armstrong's friend and mentor, honored him by giving Franklin his last name -- a fact Armstrong didn't tell anyone until more than a decade after it happened because he didn't feel worthy.

"I've been connected to the character for a long time, but this [special] is my being tethered to something really grand. I've never had participation in a project of this magnitude. Professionally, this is a sea change for me. Personally, it is just divine," said Armstrong, a cartoonist known for creating his own long-running comic strip, Jump Start.

Raymond S. Persi -- whose credits include Wreck-It Ralph and The Simpsons -- helmed the special.

"I really loved the fact that we were getting to see characters become friends in a real, honest way," Persi said.


"We wanted to really show the ups and downs and leave people with the idea that, if you let people see the real you, you're going to actually have closer friendships than if you are only trying to be nice and give people what they want."

This special differs from others in the franchise because it focuses mainly on one character and his life experiences, as opposed to how the friend group celebrates a holiday.

Schulz said the idea was to put viewers in Franklin's shoes, so they could see how hard it is to make friends in a new place.

"We don't know really what Franklin was thinking himself. He's got this little book that his grandfather gave him that says, 'This is how you should do it,'" Schulz added.

"The chance to explore that was really exciting to us, but the problem was that the general writing team of myself, my son Brian and Cornelius Uliano was that we are three White guys and we were really cautious about the fact of 'How do you write for a Black character?'

"And we knew that we simply couldn't do that. We didn't have the experience and the background and that's why we reached out to Robb Armstrong."


Armstrong said he felt the team valued his contributions during the storytelling process.

"I was able to relate so strongly to a Black character coming into an established White situation. It happened not just with this project, but it's been happening my whole life over and over," Armstrong said, emphasizing he not only has a lot in common with Franklin.

He and the elder Schulz were similar in many ways, too.

"Sparky related to me strongly, kind of saw a younger version of himself," Armstrong said, noting they both had comic strips syndicated in newspapers and lost their moms when they were around the same age.

"He inspired me to be a cartoonist, but, when I met him, I'd only been in the business a few months. I was only in 40 newspapers and he treated me like a big shot -- as an equal. One of my pieces was framed on his wall when I met him," Armstrong added.

"He said my strip reminded him of Peanuts. It had great characters and that was the secret to this whole business."

This is one of the reasons why Armstrong said he "bristles" regarding speculation about why Franklin appears by himself on one side of the table while the rest of the kids sit together on the other in the classic 1973 Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special.


In Welcome Home, Franklin, the issued is faced head-on as the title character is seen embraced by his new friends at what appears to be the same table.

"I think it was important because of the way the Internet can be so nasty these days with trolls out there trying to nitpick, no matter what the subject," Schulz said. "My son wanted to rectify that problem."

Armstrong called the scene when Franklin and the Peanuts gang come together -- which is featured in the special's trailer -- "a watershed moment."

"This hatred I see on the Internet really got to me. They just came out and called my friend Sparky Schulz a racist," Armstrong said, adding he flatly tells people who mischaracterize the late cartoonist: "You're wrong. You don't know this man."

He added that Charles M. Schulz threatened to pull his comic strip from newspapers that didn't support Franklin's inclusion in the late 1960s.

"There is no way in the world that same man can be considered racist," Armstrong said, adding that he, personally, is looking forward, not back. "This special was an opportunity to establish a new conversation entirely."


Although this is a new story, the iconic characters and the world they inhabit -- complete with rotary phones and station wagons -- will be recognizable to fans.

"The Peanuts world is set in the mid-1960s to maybe the late-1970s -- tops," Persi said. "We tried to keep that aesthetic going."

The special takes place in late summer where kids are still playing outside, but there are visual cues that the new school year is right around the corner.

"It's really fun to explore how light and the backgrounds can really help sell the emotion that we need to sell in this story," Persi said.

"It helped set Franklin's uncertainty in this new world. He's not sure how he fits in or where to go with it."

The first kid to give Franklin a chance is Charlie Brown, an infamously lonely little boy who never seems to get anything right.

"They don't come in with a lot of pretentiousness," Craig Schulz said of how Charlie and Franklin accept each other for who they are.

"If I were Charlie Brown, and every kid in the neighborhood knew I never kicked a football, I can't fly a kite, I've lost every baseball game, I've lost 1,000 checker games to Lucy and here comes this kid walking into the neighborhood, [I'd think,] 'Here is my chance to start over. I've got my clean slate. Here's a new kid who seems nice to me and we're going to get along great.'"


Armstrong agreed, describing Charlie and Franklin as "outliers."

"Charlie Brown is in this group, but he is not close to them," Armstrong said. "[He and Franklin] relate to each other."

Persi said Charlie's superpower is his authenticity.

"He is always true to himself," he added. "He always hopes tomorrow will be better."

Latest Headlines