Knott's Berry Farm. But is Peanuts still an entertainment franchise worth celebrating?The Peanuts Celebration returns today to
Knott's annual Peanuts Celebration runs through March 6, giving Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts characters more than a month in the park's spotlight. The Calico Mine Stage this year offers a new game-show-themed musical called It's Your Life, Charlie Brown, while fans can learn how to draw the Peanuts characters in the Bird Cage Theatre's Peanuts Sketch School. Franklin and Linus host the Peanuts Cowboy Jamboree at Calico Park. Knott's is rolling out new Peanuts-inspired food items for sale throughout the park, and new-to-the-park character Marcie joins the Peanuts meet-and-greet lineup.
But how many Knott's Berry Farm visitors know Peanuts as anything other than the theme for the park's Camp Snoopy children's area?
Half a century ago, Peanuts was bigger than Disney. Charles Schulz' creation anchored the comics pages of every major newspaper in America - back when pretty much every household subscribed to the local paper. The Charlie Brown Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving specials were must-watch television every year. Millions of American children went to school carrying Peanuts-themed lunch boxes. Peanuts characters hawked everything from their parents' life insurance to the Dolly Madison snack cakes in those lunch boxes. The Apollo 10 mission to the Moon named its lunar and command modules after Snoopy and Charlie Brown.
And, like countless other GenX kids, a Snoopy plush doll was my most prized possession and companion for years after I got it on Christmas morning.
So what happened? Why didn't Peanuts continue to grow and dominate family entertainment in the United States and abroad, the way that Disney ultimately managed to do?
A clue to that answer lies in the farewell letter that Schulz wrote to fans in Peanuts' final Sunday comic strip, which was drawn weeks in advance but ran the day after Schulz's death in February 2000:
"Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish 'Peanuts' to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement."
Unlike Schulz, Walt Disney built his business to be done by others. Yes, Walt put his name on everything, but even the first Mickey Mouse cartoons were as much the work of Ub Iwerks as Walt himself.
Walt Disney built an entertainment company. Charles Schulz drew a comic strip. Ultimately, that difference explains why Peanuts failed to thrive in Schulz' later years and after his death, while The Walt Disney Company eventually grew into the most dominant entertainment brand in the world.
Yes, Schulz oversaw a multi-billion-dollar business, like Walt did. But Schulz did not branch out and create other franchises beyond Charlie Brown and company. When Schulz sold the rights to Peanuts, they did not go to a movie studio with the ability to grow the franchise across multiple media. Instead, they went to a newspaper company. (Full disclosure: I worked for that newspaper company - E.W. Scripps - for several years.)
One great deal that Charles and Schulz family made, however, was with Knott's Berry Farm. In 1983, they licensed the Peanuts characters to the park for its Camp Snoopy - a trailblazing children's area that continues to delight many young fans who have no clue what a "newspaper comic strip" might be. Even if Peanuts hasn't kept up with other animation franchises in film and television, Peanuts continues to resonate with many fans as a theme park IP. Knott's Peanuts Celebration provides an opportunity for the franchise's Boomer, GenX and elder Millennial fans to reconnection with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest, even if they've long passed the age when they - or their children - would spend time in Camp Snoopy.
IP can help give a theme park attraction a head start in resonating with guests. But whether you come to an attraction knowing its backstory or not, that attraction must deliver something special to its guests to succeed. Knott's often leans on live entertainment, and the Peanuts Celebration gives Knott's talent another opportunity to show off for park audiences. The shows are cute and charming, the characters engaging, and there's plenty on the celebration menus for a variety of tastes.
So, ultimately, this celebration might not need Peanuts as much as Peanuts needs a celebration like this.
Knott's Peanuts Celebration runs daily through March 6. For discounted tickets to Knott's Berry Farm, please visit our travel partner's Knott's Berry Farm tickets page.
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