What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?
|What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?
|Created by||Charles M. Schulz|
|Written by||Charles M. Schulz
John McCrae (for the poem In Flanders Fields)
|Directed by||Bill Melendez|
|Voices of||Brad Kesten
Stacy Heather Tolkin
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||1|
|Executive producer(s)||Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates|
|Running time||28 minutes|
|First shown in||May 30, 1983|
|Preceded by||It's an Adventure, Charlie Brown|
|Followed by||It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown|
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? A Tribute is the 26th prime-time animated television special based upon the comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, who introduced the special. It originally aired on the CBS network on May 30, 1983, Memorial Day in the United States, and one week prior to the 39th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.
The special directly follows the events of the 1980 theatrical feature film Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!). Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Woodstock are returning from their student exchange in Paris. The film was purposefully open-ended in case there could be other adventures among the characters prior to returning home.
Charles Schulz said about its development,
|“||I kept thinking how interesting it would be if they should somehow get lost on this little trip and end up at Omaha Beach and envision the scenes of the famous D-Day Invasion of World War II. I even thought that they might pass through Belgium and we could show some landscapes affected by World War I, and how emotional it could be if one of the characters somehow could be made to recite the immortal poem, John McCrae's In Flanders Fields.||”|
Schulz struggled with development of the storyline until shortly after his open-heart surgery in 1981. While recuperating, he was able to finalize the concept with a common line that would tie everything together, "What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?"
The special opens with various scenes from Charlie Brown's bedroom, and especially the toys in his room. This short sequence is meant to show the things that children play with, and possibly by extension, the society and culture that they grow up in. Although the toys are varied, including baseball gear, stuffed animals, cars and dinosaurs, it is noticeable that many of the toys are of a military nature: two WWII era tanks, a pirate ship, a toy cannon, and so on. The prevalence of war-themed toys is a foreshadowing of what this Peanuts special is about and the major message behind it - war is a destructive horrible evil, and yet it is everywhere. The "lesson" to be learned, which is constantly alluded to throughout the special and is finally encapsulated by Gen. Eisenhower's quote, is that all people must find a way to live in peace with each other and do away with war forever.
After the toy sequence, there is a sequence showing books on a shelf in Charlie Brown's bedroom. Just like the toy sequence, the books concern a variety of subjects, but warfare is one of the subjects that is shown in the form of a biography on the Red Baron, who is a recurring presence throughout the entire Peanuts comic strip. Interestingly, some of the books are not fictitious, but are real books, such as Winnie the Pooh, The Hardy Boys, and The Lone Ranger. The most prominent book is a blue photo album, and this is the book that Charlie Brown retrieves from the shelf.
As Charlie Brown sits in a chair with the album, his younger sister Sally approaches him and asks what he's doing. He replies that he's putting in the photos from his trip to France with Linus, Marcy, Peppermint Patty, and Snoopy. She then asks him what he learned on the trip, and from there, it is shown in flashback:
As they begin to head back from the chateau to the train station for the return trip to England (where they would return to America by plane), their problematic rental car (a Citroen 2CV) slows their progress, before breaking down entirely in a small French town. Marcy approaches a French lady and requests that they trade their broken car for one of her good cars. When Marcy tells her that Snoopy, a World War I flying ace, will be the one driving, she is overjoyed, calling WWI "my war" and immediately arranges the transfer. However, they soon become lost after taking a wrong turn. Charlie Brown proposes that they should just continue northwards until they eventually reach the Channel coast. From there, they can head eastwards along the shore until they reach the town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, where they can catch a ferry back to England. The gang agree on the plan, and after reaching the English Channel, they camp on the grassy heights overlooking the beach.
However, Linus cannot sleep. Waking up in the middle of the night, he remarks to himself "I don't know where we are, but there's something familiar about this place". He decides to go for a walk, and looks over the crescent-shaped beach from the heights where he and his friends are encamped, and suddenly he remembers - this is Omaha Beach. Upon realizing the great significance of where they are, he races back to the camp and proceeds to tell the others about the importance of the place. He tells of the Battle of D-Day, citing specific events along the way, including the large casualties suffered by the combat engineers, the creation of the Mulberry harbours, and the assault against Pointe du Hoc. Then, Linus leads the group to the nearby cemetery for all of the American soldiers who were killed on Omaha Beach. The voice of General Dwight D. Eisenhower is also heard, reminiscing about the experiences of the battle. It is here that we learn the major thesis for the story's plot, when Eisenhower hopes that people in the future will have learned more about the need for establishing lasting peace than the people of his own time. Archival news footage is also used, in some cases with the characters inserted through rotoscoping.
While proceeding eastwards towards their destination, they get lost again. Upon asking a local boy for directions, they learn that they are on the road to Ypres, which Linus recognizes as the site of a series of battles during World War I. They arrive at a field of red poppies, which grew throughout the wastelands of battles fought during the war, and which serve as a marker for the Ypres battle site. Linus explains the legend behind the red poppies, and then recites the poem In Flanders Fields, after directing the group to the British field dressing station where McCrae was inspired to write the poem.
They come away realizing the impact and tragedy of both world wars, and possibly reflecting upon the tragedy of war in general. Standing among the field of red poppies, Linus then turns and asks, "What have we learned, Charlie Brown?". The scene then flashes forwards to him and Sally. The special tries to end on a comedic note, when she then tells Charlie Brown that he is pasting the pictures upside down.
- Brad Kesten – Charlie Brown
- Jeremy Schoenberg – Linus van Pelt
- Stacy Heather Tolkin – Sally Brown
- Brent Hauer/Victoria Vargas – Peppermint Patty
- Michael Dockery – Marcie
- Monica Parker – French Lady
- Bill Melendez – Snoopy and Woodstock
The special won a Peabody Award for "distinguished achievement and meritorious public service" in broadcasting. Schulz would later say of the acclaim,
|“||The Peabody award we received for What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? was a very gratifying response to the program, plus many wonderful letters from appreciative young viewers who said that they now understood what happened on June 6, 1944. We labeled this show with the subtitle A Tribute, because that was exactly what we wanted it to be: no more and no less. It proved also that the characters of Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and the others were close enough to being real to handle delicately a subject that other animated characters would destroy.||”|
Home video releases
The special was released on VHS in 1996. The special is available for purchase on iTunes together with You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown and He's a Bully, Charlie Brown, and is now available on DVD in the Peanuts Emmy Honored Collection.
- Larkin, David, ed. (1999). Peanuts: A Golden Celebration. Harper Collins Publishers. p. 122.
- "You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown on iTunes".
- "TVShowsonDVD Charlie Brown/Peanuts Specials - 'Peanuts: Emmy Honored Collection' DVD Set this Fall".