Charlie Brown goes through life knowing he may never find true love. This DVD brings us three Peanuts cartoons, inflicting damage onto the character of Charlie Brown through Valentine’s Day, the Homecoming Dance and his infatuation with the Little Red Haired Girl.
The Peanuts television specials that I remember most are Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and Snoopy Come Home. Each of these specials has been replayed so many times that it is hard not to quote the lines as the characters say them. The Christmas special is as much a holiday staple as It’s a Wonderful Life. Who doesn’t feel something when the kids gather around Charlie Brown’s little sad tree and decorate it up nice? Peanuts is an American institution that is more nostalgia for me than anything.
Maybe that is why I was surprised when I turned on Be My Valentine Charlie Brown and did not find the uplifting, inspiring film that Christmas was, but instead a very sad tale about a young boy who cannot find love. Like all Peanuts cartoons, the only people you see are the children. The adults are always off screen and their voices distorted, usually with a child repeating what was said to let the viewer in on the story. This works for the comic as it leaves you in the world of the children, seeing things through their eyes without the constant need for reprisal from authority figures.
That makes the episodes on this disc even more depressing. In Be My Valentine Charlie Brown, the titular character sits by his mailbox waiting day after day for the mail to arrive. All Charlie Brown wants is a Valentine’s Day card. And every day he is disappointed. You may have seen this before, as it is a direct replay of the Christmas special. Charlie Brown’s reaction in that Christmas special is poignant. “I almost wish there weren’t a Holiday season. I know no one likes me, why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?” Yet, the Christmas episode ends on the high note I mentioned. This Valentine’s special does not.
Charlie Brown slips further into depression as his classmates get together to exchange Valentine’s Day cards. Everyone receives at least one, many handfuls, except Charlie Brown. He gets nothing despite bringing a handful himself to give out. Finally at the end, Violet gives him one that she received so he would have one. Schroeder stands up for Charlie Brown, pointing out that the girls only chose to do this so they would no longer feel guilty. Charlie Brown interrupts him and says he will take the card anyway, proving that he is not only a sad character, but bordering on pathetic and desperate.
The episode garnered numerous Valentine’s Day cards sent from kids around the world to Charlie Brown. It seemed to work on a level that showed kids how badly a person could be hurt when they are shunned by their classmates and friends. It is a tale of a boy who never finds love and it can be used to teach kids an important lesson on how they should treat kids around them.
The second episode on the disc, You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, has Charlie Brown chasing the mysterious “Little Red Haired Girl” and finally getting a promising outlook on his future. With a note from the Little Red Haired Girl saying she likes him too, he dances down the street happily awaiting the next school year. This is an outlook that anyone who has followed the comic strip by Charles Schultz knows will never pay off. The Little Red Haired Girl was based on the one unrequited love of Schultz’s life, the one girl that he always loved but who rejected him. Charlie Brown was more a part of Schultz than anyone else and to see the heartbreak and failures of the character is even more tragic when you consider the fact that it is, in may cases, Schultz looking back on his own childhood.
I have always looked at the world of Charlie Brown with a little distaste. The character of Lucy is despicable in every way. She is self absorbed, vane, hateful, ignorant, spiteful and does harm every time she opens her mouth. The girls that surround her are often influenced by her and follow her as demonstrated by the many cliques in school. Linus is often there to help and give advice to Charlie Brown, but has problems of his own as he carries his blanket and sucks his thumb throughout. While this often provided many humorous encounters with Snoopy, it is a problem that never seems to be rectified. Schroeder is the most level headed of the group, yet spends more time playing Beethoven on his little piano while oblivious to those around him. It is a group of kids with quirks that make them memorable, but I believe to be detrimental to the kids watching them. The one pure, good character, Charlie Brown, never wins and is considered the “loveable loser.”
These cartoons are heartbreaking and very hard to watch. The third episode, It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, ends on a great note but carries the worst punishment of them all. I know it is important to see a character get beaten to the level of destruction only to see them finally achieve their greatest moment. It is here that Charlie Brown might have achieved his greatest moment, but it is mostly done off screen and even Charlie Brown does not remember it when it finally ends. We have to hear Linus tell us it was Charlie Brown’s greatest moment. However the torment and failure that he endures the entire running time up to that point is just painful to watch.
The one thing that never fails to entertain in Peanuts cartoons is the character of Snoopy. That is no different here. While he is much more of a background character in these films, when they drop him into a scene he is brilliant. Almost a call back to the vaudeville era, he weaves and intercuts through the stories with a flair that just sweeps you away. He is, by far, the richest and most entertaining character in the entire Peanuts world. He is the perfect character to weigh the films to a more level scale, offsetting the dramatic tension of Charlie Brown’s world. There just was not enough of Snoopy in this set. I think that is why the Christmas special works on a better level than this one.
I think Charlie Brown is a product of his time. For adults watching the films now, it is a way to go back in time and remember what it was like to be a kid. We can relive the moments of our lives that were the hardest and see how they made us who we are today. Charlie Brown carries more significance for those of us who have been there then it does for many kids today. Cliques are prevalent for young kids today and it would be nice to think that episodes like this would help them treat each other a little better. I don’t think they will though. The animation is very simple and the voice work is very, very bad on these three films. The stories are sad and disturbing and carry lessons, but not much in the way of entertainment. For nostalgia they are nice, but for the youth of today I’m afraid the world of Peanuts might have passed them by.
This is a remastered deluxe edition and the transfer is great. Everything looked spectacular on my big TV. The sound was good, the music coming across great and the voices were as good as they could be considering the poor quality of the actors providing them.
There is a great documentary on the disc called Unlucky in Love: An Unrequited Love Story. When I finished watching the three films, I found myself let down. The entire production seemed pessimistic and damaged. I understood that Charlie Brown was a loser and needed to fight for everything he got, but there was such a lack of hope in these stories that I felt I was watching the systematic dismantling of the psyche of one Charlie Brown. That opinion changes drastically after watching the documentary. I realized I had misinterpreted the intent of Charles Schultz in these storylines. He was not beating up Charlie Brown, he was telling the heartbreaking story of the inability to find love. He was reliving the worst times of his life, and doing it in a way that was both nostalgic and funny at the same time. I still feel the damage done to Charlie Brown was a little excessive but I have a great respect for the man telling the stories. This documentary is short, but is worth the watch.