Way back in 1969, half a century ago, when my son was a year old, we watched “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” directed by Bill Melendez and showcasing the lovable loser Charlie Brown from the “Peanuts” comic strip that Charles Schulz created. It’s 50 years later and, on October 18th, 2019, the film is being re-released on the big screen once again in honor of its 50th anniversary.
The songs in the film were both Oscar and Grammy nominated back in 1971, with music and lyrics by Rod McKuen like, “People, after all, start out as being small, And we’re all a boy named Charlie Brown.”
As the film opens, Charlie Brown, Lucy Van Pelt and Linus are all staring at the clouds and describing what they see. Linus thinks he sees an outline of the British Honduras Islands in the Caribbean and a profile of Thomas Eakens, famous painter and sculptor. When asked what he sees, Charlie admits that he was going to say a duckie and a horsie. Now Charlie is rethinking that response.
My son was one year old when this film came out, but most of it is as fresh and timely today as it was then. Perhaps the only exception to that remark is one of the final scenes that shows boys shooting marbles in a circle. Boys today would have no idea what that scene was all about. I remember playing marbles, and I’m sure Charles Schulz, who wrote the source material probably played marbles with shooters and Aggies, but today, it would be some video game.
Mostly, we are allowed to empathize with Charlie Brown, who goes through a depression when he cannot fly a kite (Snoopy can, immediately after Charlie has exclaimed, “Anyone who can fly this kite is a genius!”) or, seemingly, succeed at anything. “I just can’t seem to do anything right,” Charlie says, noting that his baseball team has just lost its 99th straight game.
But the times, they are a’changin’, and Charlie wins the local spelling bee and goes on to a larger competition, where he almost takes home all the marbles. As a former English teacher at the elementary school level, I applaud the spelling rules the film packs into the script. I guarantee you that 90% of today’s students probably won’t have heard most of them before and could benefit from taking notes!
Here is Lucy Van Pelt, pulling the football away just as Charlie attempts to kick it and causing Charlie to moan, “Why, oh why, do I let her do this to me!”
When Charlie embarks on a Lucy-directed attempt to follow up his school spelling bee championship by winning big at other spelling bees, he leaves town on a bus, taking with him Linus’ blanket, which Linus gave him as a good luck token. Unfortunately, the absence of the blanket leaves Linus in a funk.
Linus and Snoopy go to the big city to try to retrieve the precious blankie. My son had such a blankie and, when he was hospitalized with double pneumonia at the age of 2, his grandmother took his dirty blanket home to wash it, leaving son Scott with a substitute blankie. This substitute blanket did not set well with son Scott (“Accept no substitute!”) who went through his own meltdown while in an oxygen tent, pining for his wonderful blanket and rejoicing when it was finally returned to him. (He used to find “the good part” on the edge, which was a tiny segment of the lace that had worn off the entire perimeter of the blanket, and rub it against his cheek as he drifted off to sleep.)
Finally, Linus gets his blanket back (as did Scott) and all is well. Linus can finally stop saying, “Woe is me!” Linus plays Beethoven. (Lucy, seeing a bust of Beethoven on his piano, asks, “Who is this? George Washington?”) and Snoopy ice skates like a champion.
The movie holds up remarkably well after fifty years (with the exception of that marbles-shooting scene) and the colorful sequences with animated pulsing color will be even better viewed on a giant screen once again. Enjoy it at your local theater beginning August 18th.