Judge Geoffrey Miller once told someone he was a boy named Charlie Brown; soon afterwards he was forced into a mental health facility for multiple personality disorder. He's Tiger Woods, too!
Our review of A Boy Named Charlie Brown / Snoopy Come Home, published October 30th, 2011, is also available.
"The world is full of lots of people/Here, there, and all around/But
people after all/Start out as being small/And we're all a boy named Charlie
The first of four Peanuts theatrical features, A Boy Named Charlie Brown is also the one truest to the original comic strip. Adapted directly from some of creator Charles M. Schulz's comics, it encapsulates the best of Peanuts while avoiding the commercial excesses that dragged it down in its later years. Everything that makes Peanuts such a perennial favorite is here: precocious kids with adult neuroses, wonderful snippets of wit and wisdom, and a charmingly simple art style.
Facts of the Case
After a series of failures, Charlie Brown has yet another one of his trademark crises of confidence. The Peanuts gang convinces him to participate in a school spelling bee; surprisingly, he wins and advances to the next competition. As he prepares to go off to his next spelling bee in the city, Lucy tries to finagle a cut of his (non-existent) earnings, and Linus offers up his blanket as a good luck charm. After arriving in the city, Charlie Brown studies like mad in his hotel room to prep for the bee, while Linus, suffering from withdrawal, ventures off with Snoopy in search of Charlie and his beloved blanket.
The appeal of Peanuts has always been the incongruity of young children with very adult personalities and problems. Charlie Brown may be barely school age, but he has the same inadequacies and insecurities that many of us "grown-ups" do. A psychiatrist would have a field day with Linus, whose security blanket and thumbsucking habit are in strange contrast with the philosophical advice he's always dispensing. Let's not even get into all the unrequited love going around—sometimes it seems as though everyone in the Peanuts universe harbors a crush on someone who's utterly disinterested in them. For all its innocence on the surface, Peanuts is essentially about a bunch of kids who need therapy and have no visible parents.
A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a special entry in the vast Peanuts body of work because it is perhaps the purest the universe has ever been portrayed in animated form. There's no Woodstock or Spike (or any of Snoopy's other relatives, for that matter); auxiliary characters like Pigpen only make brief cameos. The focus is squarely on Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and Snoopy. (Schroeder and Sally each have a handful of appearances as well.) After so many years of Peanuts animated specials that increasingly explored fringe characters at the expense of the main quartet, it's refreshing to see just these four and the dynamic of their relationship.
Of course, as the title alludes, this is a movie primarily concerned with everyone's favorite prematurely bald lovable loser (well, other than George Costanza). Charlie Brown's (unsuccessful) attempt to fly a kite in an early scene sums up his life story (and the movie): He starts off with a determined, cheerful demeanor, building his kite and rushing off into the field to try it out. Frustrated that it won't take flight, he declares that "anyone who can fly this kite is a genius!" Lucy comes along, and then passes the kite over to Snoopy, who has no problem getting it to fly (even though he's peacefully resting on top of his doghouse). As hard as Charlie Brown tries, he just can't win.
Despite the flimsy spelling bee plot, A Boy Named Charlie Brown is mostly comprised of brief vignettes strung together. Many of the classic Peanuts moments—the gang playing baseball, Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he's about to kick it, Snoopy pretending he's a World War I pilot—are here in all their glory. It's all the wonderful little details that hold everything together. As they wax philosophically, Charlie Brown and Linus play a game of tic-tac-toe with sticks in the dirt—Charlie Brown loses, of course. When she offers psychiatric advice to the downtrodden Charlie Brown, Lucy pulls out photographic slides and shows him all of his faults on a projector, going over them one by one as they're blown up on a screen.
The traditional Peanuts animation style is augmented by a number of surprisingly psychedelic sequences—the sorts of things you only see in mainstream movies from the late '60s. When Schroeder plays his piano, his living room dissolves into gorgeous, abstract imagery that mimics classic European art. Another extended detour features Snoopy ice skating, then picking up a hockey stick and playing against the backdrop of live-action silhouettes. Vince Guaraldi's score, including the instantly recognizable theme, is a constant presence; who could imagine Peanuts without it? Songwriter and poet Rod McKuen also contributes several original songs, including "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" and the uncharacteristically blunt "Failure Face" (an insult directed at Charlie Brown by Lucy and her friends).
Given that the packaging made no mention of any restoration or remastering, I prepared myself for a VHS-quality transfer. Well, it's not quite perfect, but it's better than I expected. Other than some light (but omnipresent) dust and scratches on the picture, it looks and sounds great. Both 5.1 and stereo sound mixes are available. While there are no true extras, the film has been restored to its original theatrical cut, with previously deleted scenes put back in and other existing scenes extended. Without a doubt, it's the best A Boy Named Charlie Brown has ever been presented for home release.
Peanuts has been such an omnipresent part of popular culture for the past 40 years that anyone old enough to be reading this review has surely already made up their mind about it. So the real question for Peanuts fans is whether or not this DVD is worth it. If you haven't seen this movie and like Peanuts, get it; if you're a fan of the movie worried that this budget-priced disc will disappoint, let me reassure you that you'll be pleased with its quality. A Boy Named Charlie Brown distills the essence of Peanuts down to its very core—to the things that make it so magical and enduring. That it's the rare G-rated movie that's truly for all ages is icing on the cake.
Good grief! Of course it's not guilty!
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