Sunday, October 14, 2012

Family Movie Night: A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Title: A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Director: Bill Melendez
Original Release: 1969
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Image via Wikipedia

A Boy Named Charlie Brown was the first feature-length film based on Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip.  The story touches on all of the classic Charlie Brown motifs: the kite-eating tree, the hapless baseball team, the psychiatrist stand, Lucy (worst...friend...EVER...) pulling away the football as he's about to kick it, etc.  Charlie Brown is the ultimate lovable loser.  He endures because he is us.  Who among us has not felt from time to time that the deck is eternally stacked against us?

While I am still a relative newbie with comic books, comic strips have been a big part of my life for decades.  There are many advantages to growing up in the Washington, DC area.  Under-appreciated among them is the fact that The Washington Post has the biggest comics section of any newspaper in the English language.  As such, I began every day reading Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and all the rest over a bowl of Raisin Bran.

Peanuts has always been particularly dear to me for several reasons.  I'm a firm believer in the beauty of simplicity and there are few better demonstrations in all of American literature.  Our fifth-grade play in elementary school was Peanuts-based.  I was Linus.  Also, ties to Minnesota are very strong.  Schulz's world evokes very warm thoughts about the year I spent in St. Paul after college.

On May 27, 2000, just a few months after Schulz's death, cartoonists throughout the industry published their own Peanuts-themed strips in homage to the grandmaster.  Several had Charlie Brown finally kicking the football through the uprights:

Image via Charles Schulz Tribute

Fittingly somehow, Garfield got it exactly right:

Image via Charles Schulz Tribute

Getting back to the film, the late '60s were an exciting time in film animation.  Yellow Submarine was released in '68.  Once you can get past the words trippy and psychedelic, there are a lot of very interesting sequences in that movie.  Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired in '69 and with it the innovative work of Terry Gilliam, another Minnesotan.  The artwork for A Boy Named Charlie Brown is all credited to Schulz, though there was undoubtedly a hefty staff on-hand to prepare it all for film.  There are several nice song montages.  The standout sequence is set to Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, as performed by Schroeder (Ingolf Dahl, actually):

Multi-generational considerations:
  • I don't think I'm betraying any family secrets to say that My Wife is not as enamored of the Peanuts gang as my daughter and I are.  If you're already a fan and looking to convert your loved ones, you might start them on the holiday specials before going long-form.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.


  1. Every September, I haul 'The Great Pumpkin' out of the orange box in which we store our Hallowe'en decorations, etc. That Guaraldi soundtrack is so deeply embedded that I don't know if I could 'start autumn' without it.

    This post, perhaps more than any other since your 80s crush blogfest post, shines a light on why I feel a connection to you. I think we're the same age and, I think, we're largely plugged into the same feeds pop culturally -- in terms of our formative years. This sentence,

    'As such, I began every day reading Peanuts, Garfield, The Far Side, Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and all the rest over a bowl of Raisin Bran.'

    made me want to ask two things: did you pick out the raisins (as Garfield would have) and where's Blondie and Doonesbury?

    The two Schultz tribute strips you included in this post actually made me tear up over my Cocoa Cream of Wheat (the cereal of choice when the weather starts to turn.)

    'A Boy Named Charlie Brown' and 'Snoopy Come Home' are two films which set all kinds of parameters around my developing mind as a squirt. The sound of Snoopy's laughter, the sound of Linus's groans whenever he was cruelly separated from his blanket, the sight of Chuck's enormous head with the sparse curl, Peppermint Patty as philosopher, unassuming Marcy, hideous Lucy (I'm sorry but I cannot watch too much of any CB classic without thinking (as an adult) gah, what a bitch) and one of my all-time favorite characters, Woodstock (up there with Milo and Opus.)

    Finally, thank you so much for appending that particular video of Schroeder (whom you seem like much more to me than Linus) playing this particular sonata. I played the first and second movements of the Pathetique in recital as a teen. I love the at once Gothic and mythic dimensions of this very sixties (say it with me, now, Electric Company) animation.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    1. I may be Schroeder now but I was definitely Linus as a kid - that know-it-all who couldn't resist showing off what he saw as his own dazzling intellect. Luckily, I changed in time to avoid becoming Cliff Clavin as an adult. I even had a blanket for longer than was age-appropriate and a sister who found (finds?) me unbelievably embarassing.

      You'd think Doonesbury would be on that list, wouldn't you? Especially with the strong ties to daily life in Washington. Funny thing, though - The Post didn't carry Doonesbury in the Comics section. They had it with the Op-Ed columns in another part of the paper. Perhaps they still do. So, I'd usually read the Sunday strip but didn't bother hunting it down in the daily papers. As for Blondie, it's fun but too formulaic after a while. The Dagwood Bumstead Society, however - that was a stroke of genius!

      I've always loved raisins. I'd never pick them out. However, Garfield and I are in agreement on both mornings and Mondays.

    2. One could do worse than Cliffy.

      Forgot to mention Funky Winkerbean.

    3. That is not a strip I know. It's not carried by The Post. You like?

    4. When I was a little girl, I used to read the comics on Sunday at my grampa's. There were a lot of grandkids (he had seven children, most of whom married and reproduced) and we'd all go over on Sunday mornings to visit. He used to give us each a dollar allowance. He was very generous and an excellent family man.

      Anyway, I used to sprawl out on the floor of the den with the comics section of The El Paso Times and I remember Peanuts at the top, then Blondie, then Doonesbury, then Funky Winkerbean. These were the front-page comics. Peanuts was, obviously, my fave. The rest I read, I guess, because they were there.

      Later, there was For Better or For Worse and, strangely, Garfield is not a strip I remember in the Sunday paper. Him I used to enjoy in Mrs. Jordan's third-grade class as my friend, Noel (still my buddy to this day) used to bring in the books and share them with me and this other very dreamy kid who always had his fingers up his nose, Adam Starke. (Can you imagine if he googeld himself and found his name, here?)

      Bloom County (retired in 1989,) I did not discover until I was in my late teens and I believe it became and remains my favorite strip of all time. Breathed, the cartoonist, won the Pulitzer for it in 1987.

    5. Poor little Adam Starke... If you should find this, sir, know that recovering nose pickers are safe and welcome here at The Squid. Don't let Suze shame you!

      I'm with you on Bloom County, Suze. I am Binkley - far more than Linus or Schroeder. As a kid, I even kind of looked like him. Calvin and Hobbes would be a very close second. The Far Side isn't far behind. Not too long ago, I was saying to Mock that I think our generation was very lucky to grow up with those three - the most intelligent, thoughtful comic strips ever published in my opinion. And it wasn't just Breathed. All three of those writers burned out. As much as I have missed them in the years since, I think it's yet another argument for keeping things simple.

      I, too, first came to Garfield through the books. I, too, am still friends with the kid who introduced me. He's known here at The Squid as The Philosopher. He was very good at drawing Garfield. I never could.

      We DO have some interesting connections...

    6. Binkley. That tells me so much. :)

      And wasn't Yaz Pistachio just the coolest. Name. EVER!? (Rhetorical question, of course.)

      My dad still sends me random Far Side cartoons in the mail. Speaking about keeping it simple, it's those pristine, elemental pleasures that make life soo sweet.

      (Hey, Adam. Sorry about outin' ya, kid.)

    7. My favorite recurring Bloom County theme was Opus as sucker for television mail order commercials.

      I actually think Steve Dallas, jerk that he is, is an ingenious character. Let's face it: we all know a guy like that!