Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Time for another installment of Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I blog and generally ramble about one of the movies I own.  With The Peanuts Movie being pretty good, I thought it was a good time to re-visit the very first Peanuts movie, A Boy Named Charlie BrownThis is in my notes at May 9, 2015.

When I blogged about the trailer for the upcoming Peanuts Movie, I mentioned that Charlie Brown in animation is something that fascinates me.  More than 50 TV specials, a Saturday morning cartoon, four feature films with a fifth on the way...can you think of any other comic strip that's had such a successful career in animation?  When I was a kid, I had this toy...the Fisher Price movie viewer.  You put in the yellow cartridge, and you could watch a movie.  I had a Snoopy one!  And ever since then, I've been amazed at Charlie Brown's second life in animation.

Back at Christmas time, after watching A Charlie Brown Christmas once again, I remember sharing some texts with my best friend, and he had trouble comprehending that, yes, Charlie Brown has been on the big screen.  Four theatrically released, feature length films starring Charlie Brown et al.  The first one is the one I remember the most vividly, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  I had a friend who had it on VHS when I was a kid...seemed to always be watching it whenever I was over at his place.  And it always struck me as...kind of odd.  Well, with that new Peanuts Movie coming, I'd been nostalgic for it, so when I saw it on DVD for $10, I figured "Why not?"

The film really is a product of its time.  It was made in 1969, so the animation does get a little bit...psychedelic in some places.  A prime example is when Charlie Brown and the gang have their first baseball game of the season.  Snoopy cranks up the national anthem, and we're treated to an almost Fantasia-esque piece as surreal stars, stripes, and various other images of American patriotism bounce and morph across the screen.

Fantasia-esque is another good description for a segment where Schroeder goes to town on his piano.  His piano morphs from his tiny toy piano to a behemoth with giant candles and stacks of sheet music, and various impressionistic paintings of churches and bishops start floating around and you just go, "Huh?" 

I mean...it does seem very experimental and pop-art in places.  When our heroes arrive in New York, Snoopy goes skating at Rockerfeller Plaza.  First he imagines himself figure skating (and we're treated to a lovely, fully orchestral version of the classic "Skating" music from the Christmas special), and it quickly turns into a hockey game with rotoscoped footage of an actual hockey game serving as the background! 

And there's some very imaginative use of split screens.  A baseball game montage comes across quite cleverly as the screen is divided up into panels and we see each segment of the ball game.  Or when we get the classic "Charlie Brown tries to kick the football, but Lucy pulls it away" gag.  We have Lucy sitting still in the left side of the screen, and the entire right side is dedicated to Charlie Brown walking down the field, psyching himself up.  It's all incredibly clever.

You're probably starting to go, "Wait a minute...all this weird, experimental animation.  I thought this was a Charlie Brown movie!"  Well, it is.  Our main plot has Charlie Brown in his usual funk because he's a general loser, and everything he touches turns to failure.  At Linus's urging, Charlie Brown decides to compete in the school spelling bee.  And Charlie Brown surprises everyone -- including himself -- when he proves to be a natural.  Charlie Brown begins rising through the ranks and before long he's representing his school at nationals in NYC.  Has Charlie Brown finally found something he's good at? 

Well...no.  Because he is Charlie Brown.  It does end with a good lesson.  Charlie Brown comes home, having placed second, and descends into a funk.  Linus comes to console Charlie Brown, saying that Charlie Brown has a right to feel disappointed because of all the hard work he put.  "But ya know what?" says Linus.  "The world didn't end."  Charlie Brown accepts this, and life goes on.  The end. 

As you can tell with the above Fantasia-esque meanderings I described, the film is highly episodic, and almost feels like a series of Charlie Brown short films at times, but it's still highly enjoyable.  Still as good as I remember it from when I was a kid.

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