Vote and Rate Jamie Clubb's articles and reviews

Thursday 16 October 2014

Champion Charlie Brown!

Charlie Brown, created by Charles Schultz, is the USA's most profound and simple antidote to the culture of competitiveness. Charlie Brown's genesis was as a single strip cartoon for Sunday newspapers. His creator continued producing these witty, simplistic yet thoughtful stories told completely from the point of view of children up until his death. Along the way these iconic little stories inspired numerous TV specials, series and feature films. This was the first feature film outing for him and the rest of the "Peanuts", and it stands up today, in a time of 3D and adult animation, as a wonderful comment on "every kid in every town".

The film focuses completely on the crux of Charlie Brown: his perpetual failing. From the very beginning Charlie Brown fails at everything whether it is being able to spot impressive images in clouds, baseball games, flying kites, floating boats in a bath or even playing noughts and crosses in the dirt. He can't even win an argument to have the dandelions removed from his baseball pitcher's mound. Matters are not made better when his best friend sister's psychiatric service decides the best way to treat him for his lack of self esteem is to project all his faults onto a screen via a slideshow! His best friend, Linus, decides that the only way for Charlie Brown to gain confidence is to win at something. Against the jeers of his fellow schoolmates he decides to enter the class spelling competition. However, success might offer more unforeseen problems that make his failures seem small by comparison...

The film has a wonderful simple style to it that echoes the comic strips and the TV series perfectly. However, despite lasting almost an hour and 20 minutes it doesn't fall into the trap of becoming an overstretched episode. The plot is nicely laid out with plenty of entertaining asides showing the various comical antics of the other Peanuts and some interesting musical interludes. These interludes showcase psychedelic sequences popular in the 1960s (the film was released in 1969), used to show the dreams of the various characters. As from the earliest animated cartoons, the music is a big part of Charlie Brown's appeal. It creates a warm sense of nostalgia throughout the film. The main score for the piece is provided by Jazz composer, Vince Guaraldi, but also includes music by Beethoven, performed by Ingolf Dahl, songs sung by the cast (including a pretty complex spelling rhyme accompanied by Snoopy on a makeshift Okzark harp) and the affectionate whimsical title song by songwriter/singer Rod McKuen. However, the piece that ironically will probably stay in your head the longest is the triumphant all-cast singing of "Champion Charlie Brown".

Charles Schultz, of course, not only created a deeply sympathetic and lovable human character of Charlie Brown he also surrounded him with other unforgettable characters. There is Linus, Charlie Brown's more intellectual best friend who is bonded to a literal comfort blanket. Then there is Charlie Brown's younger sister who is constantly in love with Linus. Linus's elder sister, Lucy, is the strong-willed, popular and sometime antagonist of Charlie Brown who charges five cents for psychiatric advice. Schroeder is a dedicated pianist and the focus of Lucy's amorous intentions. Pig Pen, the dirtiest and dustiest kid in town, also makes an appearance. Last but not least there is Snoopy, Charlie Brown's multi-talented yet delusional beagle, who appropriately is perhaps more famous the franchise's luckless lead character. Other classic characters that don't make it into this film are the tomboy, Peppermint Paddy, and Snoopy's bird friend, Woodstock. These two were both present in the comic strip three years ahead of the film, but weren't members of the early cast.

I first saw this film when I was four and a half years old and on holiday in Florida. I was a Charlie Brown fan for life, which might seem strange given that a lot of my writing and working is concerned with motivation. There is just something beautifully sobering and human in the character of Charlie Brown, which speaks of life's hard lessons. True, even though this film was made at the end of the 1960s, Schultz's original late 1940s/1950s feel is there in the innocence of childhood. Adults do not appear, save for the unintelligible monologue of the school teacher; and it is if the children live alone in their own little community. Long before there was South Park, Charlie Brown does not deal with children in a naïve way, but shows them for all their flaws and quirks.

This DVD edition has no special features. Some documentaries or at least a commentary track would have been very welcome. I don't know why an anniversary edition wasn't released in 2009. It is a real shame given its significance in cartoon history.

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog