Everything I know about summer camp I learned at the movies … and now from Camp Snoopy, the delightful new Apple TV series created, in part, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peanuts’ universe’s Beagle Scouts. Snoopy’s round-headed pal, Charlie Brown, is, of course, an old hand at summer camp fun (and its emotional complexities). He’s been going there since June 5, 1965, the day the late cartoonist Charles M. Schulz first placed a forlorn Charlie Brown at a bus window as it drove him away from home. In a follow-up strip, Charlie Brown wrote a letter home, saying, “My first day of camp is over. I lived through it.” 

In the first of the 13 20-minute Camp Snoopy episodes, all directed by Rob Boutilier, Snoopy, wearing his green Beagle Scout troop leader hat (with a yellow paw print as its center emblem), comes into the kitchen where Charlie Brown is preparing his little sister, Sally, for her first camp summer. Suddenly, the telephone rings. It’s Beagle Scout Headquarters with distressing news. Snoopy’s troop is on the verge of being kicked out for not having earned enough performance badges. Snoopy sputters in outrage but then does some quick arithmetic to calculate how many badges his troop has earned: 5 + (-5) = 0. To attain the necessary badges, Snoopy’s five-bird troop, which includes Woodstock, hurriedly prepares their own trip to Spring Lake. Charlie Brown and Sally take a bus. Snoopy calls a taxi. 

This might be the moment to say that Spring Lake and the mountains that surround it have never been so artfully rendered. The Peanuts gang went to camp in some of the 1970s-era feature films and TV specials, but the color palettes of yesteryear pale considerably against the sweet vibrance of Camp Snoopy. The daytime skies over the camp are pastel-blue and the verdant landscape below is darkened with a marker, as Schulz himself might do. At night, the moon shining down on the tents has rings radiating from it, like a child’s painting pinned to the refrigerator. 

There are three segments in each episode, all of them jauntily scored by composer Jeff Morrow, who clearly keeps a reverent ear tuned to the original Vince Guaraldi Peanuts music. Morrow appears happiest when bringing to life the adventures of Snoopy and his Scouts, who demonstrate in each episode a key lesson from their Handbook, such as How to Pitch a Tent and the importance of being Trustworthy. They also steal all sorts of extra screen time. My favorite: Snoopy is sleeping atop his tent and his noisy snores are generating giant Z’s that float up and over the tents of the bird troopers, one of whom gets so annoyed that he flies over with a butterfly net, captures Snoopy’s Z’s and buries them. 

Kids are sure to love the antic “Beagle v. Bug” and relate to “Sally’s Tooth,” which finds her worried that the Tooth Fairy won’t be able to locate her at camp. Lucy is not sympathetic; she knows to always leave a forwarding address. Among the summer’s key events are a cardboard boat regatta, the presentation of the Piney Awards (Pigpen wins Tidiest Bunk), and a bonafide crisis when Linus’s blanket goes missing: “I guess I have to learn to live as one-eighth of myself.” 

In the surprising “Leave It Like You Found It,” halfway through the season, the kids crash into an idyllic meadow the Beagle Scout troop has discovered and end up ruining it with loud music, trash, and general disregard for the natural world. Snoopy is disgusted. The gang quickly sets things right, but the story remains jarring, one of the rare times Charlie Brown and his friends have acted rashly, and, worse, affected the world in a negative way. 

The brilliant 2022 special It’s the Small Things, Charlie Brown finds Sally becoming the protector of a lone dandelion growing in the middle of Charlie Brown’s pitcher’s mound. Desperate to clear the field for a big game, Charlie Brown grabs at the flower and the dandelion is destroyed, devastating his little sister. Such moments, so unexpectedly fraught, confirm that the Apple TV Peanuts renaissance spearheaded by Charles Schulz’s son Craig is not only pleasing to the eye but thematically ambitious. And the filmmakers are quietly bringing joy into Charlie Brown’s life. It was there at the end of The Peanuts Movie, and it’s all through Camp Snoopy. He’s still a pessimist and still trips over his own feet (literally), but he also becomes something of a touchstone for his fellow campers. They continually turn to their friend Charlie Brown for insight when they feel down on themselves. Who better? 

Snoopy loves Charlie Brown too. He always has, of course, but in the emotionally evolved Peanuts animation of today, he’s more willing to show it. As summer ends, boy and dog get locked in a storage shed and end up playing astronaut, and they’re having a blast when rescued. Not long after, it’s time to head home. Charlie Brown climbs onto the bus. We don’t see him at the window but we know he’s not sitting alone, despairing at his summer failures. He’s sitting with his friends, sure as anything, and he’s smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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