Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Last night, I was hanging around at home trying to catch up on things. “Things” – you know - the stack of bills and papers that need to be filled out and/or filed and what not. I’ve been avoiding it forever. I didn’t make much progress either, because after I ate some food, I got sucked into a showing of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” on ABC Family. For some reason, they were showing it as part of their Christmas lineup. This is odd, because it has zero to do with Christmas. At any rate, this was the first time I’ve seen this movie since I was like 4-5 years old. Yet, I still remembered it vividly. It was the first movie I ever remember seeing in an actual movie theater. It was at the Hollywood Theater here in Portland in like 1975-76. The same theater where I would later see movies such as “ET,” “The Crow,” some French movie that would be considered porn, if it weren’t French and filmed in black and white (making it an art movie), and a professional bowling documentary. A group of kids from the neighborhood went and were guided by some of our older siblings. Going in, I believe I was well aware of the Peanuts story – having watched the specials on TV, but I don’t think I could’ve ever been prepared for this movie. It is so damn dark! The entire movie is a series of humiliating experiences for the downtrodden Charlie Brown. Somehow, he finds success in his school’s Spelling Bee, and moves on to bigger national competitions, until he ultimately loses over a word he should know better than almost any other. Now that I’ve spoiled the plot, I will continue. As a young child, I was affected by this movie in a very dramatic way. I don’t know if it’s because even as a little child I identified with Charlie Brown, or if his character influenced me. I was profoundly saddened through the entire movie. I wanted so badly for him to succeed. I ached for him in his bus travels to the competitions, which were long and tiresome and extremely lonely (immaculately portrayed by the solid and muted colors of the animation). The lack of adult characters in the Peanuts series also somehow added to the emptiness to this kid who hadn’t ventured away from his parents very often up to that point, but was now out without his. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I wrote a short fragment story for this blog yesterday entirely based on a piece of paper I found that had “Nineteen days after” written on it – so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Watching “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” last night got me to thinking. Why did/do I identify with “Chuck” so much? Maybe it’s because during my life, people have associated me with him. Maybe it’s my giant head. Maybe it’s my attitude and disposition. When I was in High School, the drama teacher asked me to play the part of Charlie Brown when they were planning on doing the musical “You’re A Good Boy Charlie Brown.” I was confused and did not accept, which turned out good for everyone, because that small community was spared hearing my singing voice (which as the game “Rock Band” has proven, I get booed off the stage), but Ken did a much greater job than I could’ve ever hoped for. My dad even painted a Peanuts related painting around the time I was born! It has stuck with me throughout my entire life. And watching it again, after thirty some odd years, it affected me exactly as it did when I was 4-5 years old, except now, I am much more jaded and used to all of those “lost” feelings. I found it interesting that at the end of the movie, Charlie Brown is so distraught over his failure that he shuts himself into his room and refuses to face the world again. Linus comes to visit and convinces him to go out again. When Charlie Brown finally goes back out in to the world, he sees his friends out and about. He sees some of the girls jumping rope and a couple of the boys playing marbles. They are all oblivious to him. This element of adding the stab that he is inconsequential to his already strong ache of failure is downright devastating. There are many important lessons in the Peanuts movies and specials, but I think the main one is a lesson in absolute humility.


  1. "The world did not end, Charlie Brown." --Linus

  2. well said. i had a similar experience recently when my 5-year-old pounced on "it's your valentine, charlie brown" or some such thing on the library DVD shelf. i hadn't seen it since being a kid, and although he found it hilarious and loved it, i couldn't believe the utter devastating pain it portrayed. kids laugh at charlie brown in great groups; he is spurned again and again by the object of his affection! and all of it - so damn true that it only made the hurt worse. good lord. how we ever survived all the peanuts specials is beyond me. maybe even at such a tender age we could sense their truth...

  3. Good times. I too caught a bit of Peanuts during my recent vacation. It was a few minutes of the Snoopy focused one, the name of which I could look up on IMDB but won't. Anyway, the thing that really struck me was how wonderful, how artistic and real and non-computer generated all the old wavy animation looked. That, and the fact that Snoopy is a bastard. Snoopy will kick all our asses. Snoopy will take your girlfriend and laugh.

  4. I had the same reaction to watching "A boy Named Charlie Brown." I couldn't resist Goodling the title and thats how I found your blog post. I guess i wanted to see if anyone else felt the same way that I did. I feel a little better that the feeling is a common one.

    Its amazing how this movie affetec me. I saw it first two days ago, and then I caught its replay yesterday morning... and I've been thinking about it ever since. Since I saw it, I've been in this weirdly pensive and melancholy state... and I also cant get out of my head that beautiful (but yes, melancholy) song that they played at various points in the film.

    You did an excellent job of articulating the feeling of sadness and loneliness that the film portrayed. I kept wishing that someone would give Chuck a hug, and tell him how truly well he did. (He did, after all, win the school spelling bee, and make it to runner up of the nationals... which is really quite a success in itself.) Instead, all that Linus had to offer (as well meaning as it was) was that the "world didnt end." (Which is true... but I would have told him how well he did to make it so far.) I also remember how sad it felt to hear Lucy say that owning a percentage of Charlie Brown was like owning nothing at all... that is something that no-one should ever be told... much less the runner up of a national spelling contest. And then it all ended with Charlie Brown trying again, and failing again, to kick Lucy's football... as if nothing at all had changed... and that melacholy but loving song playing in the background.

    I dunno... I guess they got the emotions they wanted out of us. I guess the melancholy loneliness portrayed was part of the point being made by this film. It was, truthfully, a quite beautiful film. Yes, ultimately, it makes me sigh and ponder if things could be a little better.

    At the risk of mixing comic strips, it makes me want to go to the dandilion patch in the '80s version of Bloom County and lie back with Opus and the gang, and ponder. Charlie and Linus and snoopy are invited.

  5. Good old Charlie Brown. Thanks for this post Chris. It evoked many thoughts, not to mention memories. You should have taken the part though. You should have gone Milli Vanilli all over the place.