Movie: "A Boy Named Charlie Brown"
Directed by: Bill Melendez
Writing credits: Charles Schulz
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Plot: Linus convinces Charlie Brown to enter the school spelling bee to prove he isn’t doomed to be a looser. Astoundingly, he wins, but now the pressure is on as he works his way through state finals and on to the National Spelling Bee in New York City.
Review: This theatrically released, Oscar nominated animated film (for best score) is largely forgotten but really ought to be seen. Schultz worked on the story line, and all the gags were his. Bill Melendez directed, the same man who did the brilliant Halloween and Christmas Specials. In years to come, wide merchandising and release of direct creative supervision watered down Peanuts Specials to the point of absurdity, introducing all sorts of features that displayed total lack of understanding of the Schulz oeuvre, including the introduction of adults that could be both seen and intelligibly heard.
This movie came before all that. Nothing gets cuted up, the humor is black. Before it’s ascent to pop iconography blurred its message, “Peanuts” had a single, pervasive theme: Persistence in the face of despair. Charles Schulz squeezed pathos and yoks from bitter fruit shoulder to shoulder with Samuel Beckett and made people think it was cute in the bargain.
The film uses premises taken directly from the daily newspaper strip, playing out in a few minutes of screen time what might take a week to unfold in your daily paper. My all time favorite Peanuts run makes the cut in the first reel. Lucy in her five-cent psychiatrists role has secretly documented Charlie Browns life on film. Now she can show him clips of his faults. We never see the scenes; the faults are never described in any detail. All we see are Charlie, Lucy, the projector and Charlie’s traumatization as he watches. It’s a masterpiece of minimalism, leaving all the work to the reader, and I think it plays better as ink on pulp paper, but I liked it on the big screen, too.
In contrast, while there were various newspaper versions of Linus suffering when separated from his blanket, none of them come close to what you see in this movie. Talk about black humor! Linus, having foolishly lent his blanket to Charlie Brown for luck, ends up pursuing him to New York to get it back. Twitching, sweating, shaking, passing out; the kindest spin you could put on it is some sort of social commentary on adult alcoholism. Taken at face value, you’re looking at a junkie in withdrawal. I bet you think I’m making this up, but I Just watched this and I’m not exaggerating even slightly.
There are bizarre, pop art departures as well that are purely cinematic and are indulged to a degree no franchise animated film would dare today. Halfway through the film, and outside the main storyline, Schroeder plays his toy piano and reality dissolves into a watercolor digression on Beethoven, juxtaposing visual representations of music in the form of sheet music and Viennese religious architectural trends. Listen, I like Shrek Three just fine, but you won’t see that kind of risk taking in any of the multitude of computer animated films available now.
Spoiler Alert. Stop reading now if I’ve wet your interest, or wait, no, read just one more sentence, then stop. I promise you this movie does something no animated, G-rated family film would ever dream of doing.
You’re still reading aren’t you? Okay, what the hell. You’ve seen this kind of movie a thousand times, right? The looser kid makes good, works his way up through a series of competitions, gets scared, almost backs out, soldiers on, things look bad, but at the very last instant TRIUMPHS!
Not in this movie. At the National Spelling Bee, with all his friends watching on TV at home, Charlie misspells the word ‘Beagle’, his own dog’s breed. When he gets off the bus with Linus, there’s no one there to greet him. When Linus bids him goodnight, he doesn’t even answer.
When Charlie doesn’t show up at school the next day, Linus goes looking for him and finds him still in bed. Linus tells him that he must feel that he let everyone down, by losing the Spelling Bee. Then he says "But did you know something, Charlie Brown? The world didn't come to an end."
Damn! And you could have left it there, but they don’t. Charlie gets up, gets dressed and goes outside. And Linus is right. The world didn’t end.
Again, Damn! That could be a damn fine ending, but they don’t leave it there either. Charlie sees Lucy. And she’s holding a football to the ground, but she doesn’t see him. And he sneaks up, and she still doesn’t see him! He’s finally going to kick that ball, and it won’t be winning the National Spelling Bee, but it will be something, and then she yanks the ball away just as he kicks and the poor bastard flies through the air and lands flat on is back. Just like he always, always, will.
And Lucy says, “Welcome Home, Charlie Brown.”
Welcome home, Charlie Brown. I hope to God when the Aliens get here and find the burned out, lifeless husk of our civilization, the last man alive left a big ass tombstone for them to find and carved “Welcome Home Charlie Brown” on it so they’d know what we were all about.
Damn. THAT is one ballsy ending. Suck on that message, Wall-E.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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