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From 'Peanuts' to 'Inside Out,' what cartoonists think Minnesota is like

You can learn a lot about how the world sees your state by the cartoons supposedly set there.

You can learn a lot about how the world sees your state by the cartoons supposedly set there. Associated Press

Minnesotans don’t grace the small screen often, but when they do, it's usually with a certain distinct flavor – sometimes standoffishness, sometimes quaint cold-weather tendencies offset by warmer and more exciting climes, and sometimes a special brand of charming idiocy.

(Think Fargo, times a million.)

But there are a few standouts that, in between jokes about winter and politeness, convey something intimate about the place where we live—something only someone who loves this state can know. The following are a few examples of cartoons that cut straight to our mild-mannered, wintery hearts.

Rocky and Bullwinkle

This hallmark duo of ’60s television fame canonically lives in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.

Their creator, Jay Ward, didn’t actually have much of a connection with our state. He grew up in Berkeley. We’re not sure what it means that his vision of Minnesota is centered on an amiable flying squirrel and a staggeringly dim-witted moose, but we think it’s a loving tribute.

Minnesota initially captured Ward's imagination because was a big fan of college football—specifically the Golden Gophers. When he was a little kid in the ’30s, he used to listen to broadcasts of games, and he’d hear the voice of star Gopher Bronko Nagurski, his favorite player.

Nagurski happened to hail from International Falls, which was whimsically described in radio weather reports as “the icebox of the nation.” Thus, Frostbite Falls, the home of the famous Moose and Squirrel, was born.

Peanuts

If you grew up in the Twin Cities, you probably thought the entire world was as obsessed with the Peanuts gang as we were. There are Linuses and Lucys on every street corner, and ’90s kids remember the glory that was Camp Snoopy.

But creator Charles Schulz, who grew up in Minnesota and gave his strip deep roots in St. Paul, once described the cartoon as a study in disappointment.

“All the loves in the strip are unrequited; all the baseball games are lost; all the test scores are D-minuses; the Great Pumpkin never comes; and the football is always pulled away,” he said during an interview. Even “Peanuts” was a name forced on the strip by the New York company that syndicated him, and he hated it for his entire career.

If you’re willing to look beyond the bright colors and rambunctious beagles, the wintery world Schulz portrays in Peanuts is a rather bleak window into Depression-era Minnesota—a place where childhood is boring, sad, and banally cruel in turns. It’d be easy to imagine he hated living there as much as he hated the Peanuts name.

But part of Schulz’s work was portraying the things that are still there for you when hope runs out. Throughout his childhood moving around St. Paul and later to California, Schulz always had at least one friend by his side: a black and white pointer named Spike. He became the inspiration for Snoopy.

Inside Out

Pixar’s 2015 smash hit follows an 11-year-old girl named Riley as her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The main characters are actually Riley’s emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—who attempt to help her navigate life without her old house, friends, and beloved hockey team.

The film was directed by Minnesota native Pete Docter. When he was in fifth grade—close to Riley’s age—his family moved to Denmark, landing a self-described “nerdy kid” in a strange new environment. But Riley’s character is actually based more on Docter’s daughter, Elie.

As he watched her mature from childhood to adolescence, he began to see in her the feelings he remembered having at her age—the fear, the disillusionment, and the loss of the charmed, goofy world of childhood.

Inside Out’s Minnesota geographically represents the innocence Riley’s leaving behind.

“That was a core thing throughout the whole film,” he told the Washington Post. “Trying to tap into that difficulty—that kids grow up and it’s sad and it’s beautiful and it’s necessary.”

Oddly, he’s not a hockey fan. At least, that’s what he told critic Colin Covert. But if you’re going to create a character from the suburbs of Minnesota, it’d be downright foolish not to give that a nod.

Honorable mentions:

Blu the Spix Macaw, who stars in the animated film Rio, is from Moose Lake, Minnesota. But they don’t call the move “Rio” for nothing. It’s really more of a love letter to filmmaker Carlos Saldanha’s native Brazil.

Moose Lake is also a running gag in VeggieTales—which mostly amounts to mentioning Moose Lake by name.

Then we have a handful of Minnesotan G.I. Joes. Both Bazooka and Tripwire are from Hibbing, Charbroil is from Blackduck, Dart is from White Earth, Hi-Tech is from St. Paul, and Steam-Roller is from Duluth.