A Boy Named Charlie Brown
|A Boy Named Charlie Brown|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bill Meléndez|
|Produced by||Lee Mendelson|
|Written by||Charles M. Schulz|
|Music by||Vince Guaraldi|
|Edited by||Robert T. Gillis
|Distributed by||National General Pictures|
|Running time||86 minutes|
|Box office||$6,000,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a 1969 American animated musical film, produced by Cinema Center Films, distributed by National General Pictures, and directed by Bill Meléndez, it is the first feature film based on the Peanuts comic strip. It was also the final time that Peter Robbins voiced the character of Charlie Brown (Robbins had voiced the role for all the Peanuts television specials up to that point, starting with the debut of the specials, 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas).
Charlie Brown's first Little League baseball game of the season approaches, and he eagerly goes to the ball field; the game starts, and the team loses the first game of the summer season. Charlie Brown walks home musing that they always lose the first and last games of the season - and all the ones in between. Later on that day, Linus shows up at the front porch of the house and tries to cheer Charlie Brown up, stating that people learn more from losing than from winning. "I guess that makes me the smartest person in the whole world," Charlie Brown replies, sarcastically. Linus says that if Charlie Brown keeps thinking he's a loser, it will not help. Positively, Linus goes on that he's sure that someday Charlie Brown will win at something. They play tic-tac-toe and Linus wins, then remarking that Charlie Brown's victory will come later.
Soon after Linus departs, Snoopy approaches Charlie Brown with a food dish. Charlie Brown feeds Snoopy, and Snoopy goes to bed. Snoopy begins having a dream he is a Flying Ace (using his doghouse as a plane) trying to shoot down a rival plane (though the rival is never shown in this sequence). The rival plane shoots Snoopy down in a sneak attack causing an imminent crash landing. Snoopy wakes up terrified from this dream and runs to Charlie Brown's front door, knocking until Charlie Brown answers. When Charlie Brown eventually opens the front door after being woken up, Snoopy runs into the house and makes his way rapidly to Charlie Brown's bed and goes to sleep. Charlie Brown then wonders why Snoopy can't be normal like any other dog. The next day, Charlie Brown stops by Lucy's psychiatric help booth. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she can help him point out his faults better than anyone else (this session includes a classic football "kick"). At her house, Lucy reveals a slide projector and a screen, onto which slides showing Charlie Brown's myriad faults will be displayed. However, the "evidence" does not help Charlie Brown at all and makes him feel even more miserable.
On the way to school the next day, Linus encounters Charlie Brown, who tells him about the presentation of slides shown by Lucy the previous evening. As they near the playground, Lucy jokingly comes up to Charlie Brown and explains that the school is having a spelling bee and laughs at the thought of him volunteering. Linus, however, thinks that entering the spelling bee is a good idea. His opinion is met by more laughter and insults by Lucy, Patty, and Violet ("Failure Face"), which sets Charlie Brown's mind to volunteer. Later in class, Charlie Brown nervously volunteers and manages to beat the other kids in the class when he correctly spells the word "insecure", which happens to be his trademark. The next day, he will be going up against the other kids in the school. Filled with determination, he, Linus, and Snoopy go home and study through the dictionary. With Snoopy's accompaniment, Linus and Charlie Brown sing about some spelling rules ("I Before E Except After C"). As the school-wide spelling bee kicks off, Charlie Brown's mind is filled with all sorts of words, rules, and doubts, as he is feeling the pressure of his class watching him take on the best spellers in the school. It soon comes down to Charlie Brown, who struggles with the word "perceive", but when Snoopy, who is outside playing a Jew's harp, plays the song that helped Charlie Brown remember spelling tips, it clears his mind and Charlie Brown wins the Bee. The kids cheerfully follow him home, singing a song entitled "Champion Charlie Brown".
Later on, at Charlie Brown's house, Lucy proclaims that Charlie Brown (with his new found fame) must have an agent, which she would naturally be the best. The others recommend that Charlie Brown should start studying again, which confuses him. Given that he just won the spelling bee, Charlie Brown mistakenly thinks that it's all over. The others tell him his victory in the school spelling bee is only the beginning as it has given him the privilege to take part in the National Spelling Bee held every year in New York City. Charlie Brown's feelings about his victory immediately turn sour, as he finds his feelings about his bad luck once again eating away at him. Soon afterward, Charlie Brown boards the bus for the trip to Manhattan. Linus wishes him luck but then generously, albeit reluctantly, hands Charlie his blanket for good luck. The kids cheer Charlie Brown on as the bus pulls away.
Back at home, Lucy finds Linus suffering terribly from withdrawal after giving his blanket to Charlie Brown. Finally unable to take it anymore, he pleads with Snoopy to help him go to New York City to find Charlie Brown and get his blanket back. Soon afterward, an exhausted Charlie Brown opens his door and is greeted by an enthusiastic Snoopy. Linus, however, passes out. As he comes back to consciousness, he explains to Charlie Brown that he is dying without his blanket. Charlie Brown tells him that he is not sure where the blanket could be. One possibility could be that he left it at the New York Public Library. Linus and Snoopy then take off through the streets of New York City in the dark. As they continue walking, Snoopy gets distracted and ends up ice-skating a beautiful four-minute routine on the ice rink at Rockefeller Center (with an intermission where he pretends to be a hockey player, getting penalized for high sticking, then coming back out to score the winning goal). Soon, he catches up to Linus at the library who, after peering through the front doors of the closed structure, is convinced it is not there. Angrily, he storms back to Charlie Brown's hotel room to tell him.
Back at the hotel, Linus continues to suffer from withdrawal, as Charlie Brown dresses for the contest. When Charlie Brown shines his shoes, Linus stares in shock: the cloth he is using is Linus's blanket. Linus dives for it, ecstatic to have it back. The three then set off for the spelling bee. Charlie Brown goes backstage while Linus and Snoopy take their seats in the auditorium where the spelling bee is to be held. Charlie Brown waits for the contest to begin. Back at home, the rest of the gang are tuning into the spelling bee, which is being broadcast on television. One-by-one, the other contestants leave the spelling bee until it is just Charlie Brown and one other boy.
After successfully spelling "unconfident", "fussbudget", "disastrous", and "incompetent", Charlie Brown is then eliminated for misspelling "beagle", of all words, as "B-E-A-G-E-L". Everyone lets out a huge scream; besides it being a relatively simple word, as Lucy points out in disgust and annoyance before turning off the TV, Charlie Brown should have been able to spell the breed of his own dog. Sadly, Charlie Brown returns home, along with Linus and Snoopy, but unlike the crowd of people that saw them off to the Big City, no one is there to greet them when their bus pulls in during the wee hours of the morning. They trudge home and the next day, Linus goes to Charlie Brown's house, where he meets Sally Brown, Charlie's sister. She tells him her brother has been in his room all day with the shades down and refuses to see or talk to anybody. As Linus knocks on the door, Charlie Brown asks who it is. When Linus asks if he can come in, Charlie Brown replies morosely, "I don't care." Linus sees Charlie Brown lying in bed. When Linus mentions that the other kids missed him at school, he replies that he is not going back to school ever again.
Linus tells him that he must feel that he let everyone down by losing the spelling bee, but as he turns to go, he looks back and says "But did you notice something, Charlie Brown? The world didn't come to an end." As Linus shuts the door, Charlie Brown thinks for a moment, gets dressed, and then goes outside. He watches while Violet, Patty, and Frieda play jump rope and Shermy and Pig-Pen play marbles. When he wanders onto the baseball field, he sees Lucy playing with the football he failed to kick earlier. He sneaks up behind her to kick it, but as always, she pulls it away, having sensed his presence all along. The film ends with him lying on the ground as Lucy leans over and says, "Welcome home, Charlie Brown”, showing he is forgiven but that nothing will be any better, before she looks into the screen, smiling as the screen fades to the end credits.
- Peter Robbins as Charlie Brown
- Pamelyn Ferdin as Lucy van Pelt
- Glenn Gilger as Linus van Pelt
- Andy Pforsich as Schroeder
- Sally Dryer as Patty
- Bill Melendez as Snoopy
- Anne Altieri as Violet
- Erin Sullivan as Sally Brown
- Linda Mendelson as Frieda / Different Girl
- Christopher DeFaria as Pig-Pen
The film was partly based on a series of Peanuts comic strips originally published in newspapers in 1966. That story had a much different ending: Charlie Brown was eliminated in his class spelling bee right away for misspelling the word maze ("M-A-Y-S" while thinking of baseball legend Willie Mays), thus confirming Violet's prediction that he would make a fool of himself. Charlie Brown then screams at his teacher in frustration, causing him to be sent to the principal's office (A few gags from that storyline, however, were also used in You're in Love, Charlie Brown).
A Boy Named Charlie Brown also included several original songs, some of which boasted vocals for the first time: "Failure Face", "I Before E Except After C" and "Champion Charlie Brown" (Before this film, musical pieces in Peanuts specials were primarily instrumental, except for a few traditional songs in A Charlie Brown Christmas.) Rod McKuen wrote and sang the title song. He also wrote "Failure Face" and "Champion Charlie Brown".
The instrumental tracks interspersed throughout the movie were composed by Vince Guaraldi and arranged by John Scott Trotter (who also wrote "I Before E Except After C"). The music consisted mostly of uptempo jazz tunes that had been heard since some of the earliest Peanuts television specials aired back in 1965; however, for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, they were given a more "theatrical" treatment, with lusher horn-filled arrangements. Instrumental tracks used in the film included "Skating" (first heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas) and "Baseball Theme" (first heard in Charlie Brown's All-Stars). Guaraldi and Trotter were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for their work on A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
The segment during the "Skating" sequence was choreographed by American figure skater Skippy Baxter. A segment during the middle of the film, in which Schroeder plays the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique, had piano performed by Ingolf Dahl.
The film also features a Jew's harp, which Snoopy plays to help Charlie with his spelling.
The French-language version replaces Rod McKuen's vocals with a French version sung by Serge Gainsbourg, "Un petit garçon nommé Charlie Brown".
A Boy Named Charlie Brown, while directed and produced by the same team of Bill Meléndez and Lee Mendelson, who were responsible for all the Peanuts television specials (Phil Roman directed later TV specials starting around the mid-1970s), has many different aspects that most of the specials did not explore in a visual sense. The film itself has moments where there is rotoscoping prevalent, as in the sequence when Snoopy skates, and the audience can see silhouettes of real hockey players behind him. Some backgrounds have a pop art feel, similar to much animation of the late 1960s, as in "The Star-Spangled Banner" sequence, where the images are purposely chaotically edited or the sequence where Schroeder plays Beethoven on his piano which effects a surrealistic quality similar to Disney's Fantasia.
There also seems to be a strong Andy Warhol influence, wherein actual photographs appear to have been painted over in semi day-glo psychedelic colors. (This is extremely evident during the final credits of the film). Melendez, who had previously worked with Bob Clampett on cartoons back in the 1940s, also uses garish colors in some sequences, which takes its cues from many Clampett backgrounds, particularly a Warner Bros. cartoon called The Big Snooze which was directed by Clampett and which Melendez had also worked on. Many backgrounds are also rendered in watercolor, or simple pen strokes, or fine lines, or sometimes all three at once. There are scenes where colors will change solidly and erratically, as witnessed by the Snoopy Red Baron sequence in the film. Perspective and horizon points are showcased in the "I Before E" scene. Split screen is also used to much effect in A Boy Named Charlie Brown as well. But even with all these theatrical enhancements, at its core, the film still has the look and feel of many of the Peanuts television specials.
Time praised its use of "subtle, understated colors" and its scrupulous fidelity to the source material, calling it a message film that "should not be missed." The New York Times' Vincent Canby wrote: "I do have some reservations about the film, but it's difficult - perhaps impossible - to be anything except benign towards a G-rated, animated movie that manages to include references to St. Stephen, Thomas Eakins, Harpers Ferry, baseball, contemporary morality (as it relates to Charlie Brown's use of his 'bean ball'), conservation and kite flying."
A 1971 Associated Press story argued the success of A Boy Named Charlie Brown "broke the Disney monopoly" on animated feature films that had existed since the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. "The success of 'Peanuts' started a trend," animation producer Fred Calvert told the AP. "But I hope the industry is not misled into thinking that animation is the only thing. You need to have a solid story and good characters, too. Audiences are no longer fascinated by the fact that Mickey Mouse can spit."
A Boy Named Charlie Brown was released on VHS in 1985 and late 1999 before making its Region 1 DVD debut in anamorphic widescreen on March 28, 2006, by Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS Home Entertainment (co-producer Cinema Center Films was owned by CBS). The DVD has more than six minutes of footage not seen since the 1969 test screening and premiere. The footage consists of new scenes completely excised from earlier home video releases (VHS, CED Laserdisc, Japanese DVD) and TV prints - most notably, a scene of Lucy's infamous "pulling-away-the-football" trick after her slide presentation of Charlie Brown's faults (and her instant replay thereof) as well as extending existing scenes.
Warner Home Video did not release the film on the box set Peanuts 1960s Collection, as the four feature films were not included in the WB/Peanuts deal (CBS/Paramount still manages the Peanuts theatrical backlog as of the present). The special was also released to Video Now disc playable on Video Now personal video players.
- "Schulz, Charlie Brown Finally Make It to the Movies: Peanuts Makes It to the Movies" by Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, CA] 29 Mar 1970.
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
- A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) - Box office / business
- A Boy Named Charlie Brown at Rotten Tomatoes
- Canby, Vincent (Dec 5, 1969). "Screen: Good Old Charlie Brown Finds a Home". New York Times. Retrieved Dec 2, 2013.
- "Disney Is Losing Cartoon Monopoly". Sarasota Herald-Tribune (AP). Sep 8, 1971.
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