Franklin From 'PEanuts' Gets To Shine In The Spotlight Of A New Animated Apple Tv+ Special

This image released by Apple TV+ shows Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, right, and Franklin in a scene from the animated special “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin," premiering Friday. (Apple TV+ via AP)
This image released by Apple TV+ shows Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, right, and Franklin in a scene from the animated special “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin," premiering Friday. (Apple TV+ via AP)
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NEW YORK (AP) — The mild-mannered Franklin — the first Black character in the “Peanuts” comic strip — gets to shine in his own animated Apple TV+ special this month in a story about friendship.

Franklin is a newcomer who bonds with Charlie Brown and is welcomed to the Peanuts universe in “Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin," which premieres on Friday.

Co-writer Robb Armstrong, the cartoonist behind the “Jump Start” strip., says he's building on the blueprints that “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz left. “Whenever you start with good ingredients, you have to work hard to make a bad cake out of it,” he says.

Race is never explicitly mentioned but Armstrong and co-writer Scott Montgomery make a subtle nod when Franklin surveys the kids in his new town and remarks, “One thing was for sure: There was a lack of variety in this place.”

“I never wanted to come off preachy or anything, but it needed to be handled in the same way that I handled it in ‘Jump Start,’" says Armstrong. "I don’t come out and call people anything. I let the characters participate in a problem solving process.”

The portrait of Franklin that emerges is of a boy who likes baseball and outer space, is good with his hands and listens to Stevie Wonder, Little Richard, James Brown and John Coltrane.

When he arrives in town, he's tired of a life constantly moving, since his father's military job takes them from location to location. “I have lived in lot of different places but none that I can call home,” he says.

But his introduction to the “Peanuts” gang initially goes poorly. He mistakes Lucy's psychiatric booth for a lemonade stand and he freaks Linus out by picking a pumpkin from his patch. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was in ‘The Twilight Zone,’" Franklin says.

“Every time he’s moved, he’s had to learn how to make friends quick and that meant that he didn’t feel he could ever be his authentic self,” said director and story editor Raymond S. Persi. “So when he comes to this town, his normal tricks don’t work because these are kind of weird kids.”

Franklin made his first appearance in the newspaper strip on July 31, 1968, prompted by a request from a school teacher for Schulz to integrate his comic strip world in the wake of the assassination of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Schulz introduced him by having Franklin return Charlie Brown’s wayward beach ball one day by the sea. It was a historical meeting and a statement: Many public beaches, like other public facilities such as schools, swimming pools, theaters and restaurants, were segregated at the time.

The new Apple TV+ special recreates that first meeting, with Franklin returning Charlie Brown's errant beach ball and then the two building a sandcastle together.

“To have this very simple idea of two children who don’t know about racism, having fun playing at the beach, building something together, I think was just so smart,” said Persi.

Franklin and Charlie Brown soon enter a soap box derby competition and their friendship is tested before a deep bond is forged. “They’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. But we can get through the rough spots together, as friends,” Franklin says.

“What I really like about the special is you’re getting a chance to see this friendship kind of grow in real time, in the way that real friendships do,” says Persi, who has directed animated projects with “The Simpsons,” Mickey Mouse and the Minions.

As usual for a “Peanuts” show, music plays a key role. Original music by Jeff Morrow leans into sophisticated jazz and, in nods to Franklin, Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," “Nothing from Nothing” by Billy Preston and some Coltrane playing on a jukebox.

Armstrong has also used the special to correct some misperceptions about the 1973 classic “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” In that special, Franklin sits by himself on one side of the Thanksgiving table, leading some to suggest he's not been fully embraced. In the new special, Franklin is specifically asked to come sit with his new pals on their side during a pizza party celebration.

Armstrong says he started with that scene and then had to figure out how the gang got there. The writers came up with a soap box derby. “We needed something that was very highly action-oriented and packed with great risk. It had to be a competition,” Armstrong says.

The special has plenty of lessons for kids and adults — winning isn't everything, friendships can be messy but rewarding and be your authentic self.

“What I’d like people to get out of it is that you don’t have to be something different for other people. Being yourself is what’s going to bring the right people into your lives,” says Persi.

Armstrong, who grew up revering Schulz, has a deep connection to Franklin. He became a cartoonist and a friend to Schulz. It was Schulz himself who asked the younger cartoonist if he would lend his last name to the character. So to have him years later spotlight Franklin in a TV special seems almost divine intervention.

“Sometimes a miracle happens,” says Armstrong. “If someone’s got a better answer, I'd love to hear it. I’m just convinced that sometimes God gets involved. And this is that.”


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