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Franklin, first Black character in 'Peanuts' strip has his own animated special

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of Charlie Brown's friends is getting his own special show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SNOOPY PRESENTS: WELCOME HOME, FRANKLIN")

CALEB BELLAVANCE: (As Franklin Armstrong) Charlie Brown, hello again. Remember me from the beach?

ETIENNE KELLICI: (As Charlie Brown) Of course I do, Franklin.

MARTIN: Franklin was the first African American character in the "Peanuts" comic strip. He debuted in print in 1969.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Today, Apple TV begins streaming Franklin's origin story. It's called "Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin." It's all about how he met Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the "Peanuts" gang.

BELLAVANCE: (As Franklin Armstrong) A delusional pseudo-doctor, a devotee of someone called the Great Pumpkin and a kid whose parents named them Pig Pen?

CRAIG SCHULZ: The Franklin special is really overdue.

MARTIN: That's Craig Schulz. He co-wrote the new show. He is also the son of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz.

SCHULZ: We get to go back and really find out where Franklin came from, try to tell the whole story of this kid.

MARTÍNEZ: The new special also gives Schulz a chance to redo a scene from Franklin's past that doesn't sit well with audiences today. It happened 50 years ago when Franklin came to dinner in "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING")

TODD BARBEE: (As Charlie Brown) Hi, Franklin. Hi, Marcie.

ROBIN REED: (As Franklin Armstrong) Hi, Chuck.

RAYMOND PERSI: So in the Thanksgiving episode, there's a scene where Franklin is sitting separate from the other kids.

MARTIN: That's Raymond Persi, the director of "Welcome Home, Franklin."

PERSI: A lot of people saw it and, in recent years, didn't like the only Black characters separate from all the white characters.

MARTIN: In the new show, the dinner scene takes place in a pizza restaurant. Franklin again sits by himself, and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SNOOPY PRESENTS: WELCOME HOME, FRANKLIN")

WYATT WHITE: (As Linus Van Pelt) Hey, Franklin. We saved you a seat over here. Come join us.

BELLAVANCE: (As Franklin Armstrong) Ain't that what friendship's really all about?

PERSI: We were able to kind of recreate that scene and turn something that was this unfortunate controversy into a moment for people to talk about.

MARTÍNEZ: There's another nod to Franklin's past in the Apple TV special. In that first 1968 appearance, Franklin rescues Charlie Brown's runaway beach ball.

MARTIN: It was a powerful image and, at the time, a rare one - a Black child and a white child together on a beach when many public beaches were still segregated. "Welcome Home, Franklin" recreates that scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SNOOPY PRESENTS: WELCOME HOME, FRANKLIN")

BELLAVANCE: (As Franklin Armstrong) Is this your beach ball?

KELLICI: (As Charlie Brown) That thing sure has a mind of its own. Thank you for catching it.

BELLAVANCE: (As Franklin Armstrong) I'm Franklin.

KELLICI: (As Charlie Brown) My name is Charlie Brown.

PERSI: You know Franklin's been around for 50 years. And what's cool is we get a chance to know him a little better, and we get a chance to see the other characters kind of in a new light again because we're getting to see them through his eyes.

MARTÍNEZ: "Snoopy Presents: Welcome Home, Franklin" is out today on Apple TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI'S "CHARLIE BROWN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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