Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
|Why, Charlie Brown, Why?|
|Genre||Animated television special|
|Created by||Charles M. Schulz|
|Written by||Charles M. Schulz|
|Directed by||Sam Jaimes|
|Voices of||Kaleb Henley
|Executive producer(s)||Lee Mendelson|
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Original release||March 16, 1990|
|Preceded by||It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown|
|Followed by||Snoopy's Reunion|
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? is the 33rd prime-time animated TV special based upon the popular comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. It originally aired on March 16, 1990 and was also nominated for an Emmy. In a departure of the light-hearted themes presented in previous (and subsequent) Peanuts specials, the story deals with a new character, named Janice, who is diagnosed with cancer. This is the first Peanuts special of the 1990s.
Janice Emmons is a new friend and classmate of Charlie Brown and Linus van Pelt, who loves to play on the swings. The special begins with Charlie, Sally, Linus, and Janice waiting for the school bus. As Janice boards the bus, she hits her arm on a railing, causing it to bruise; Linus notices that Janice has been bruising easily lately. When they arrive at school, Janice tells Linus that she is feeling tired and has a fever, so she is sent to the school nurse and is later picked up by her mother. Three days later, the class is told that Janice is in the hospital.
After school, Linus and Charlie decide to visit Janice in the hospital, where she tells them that she has leukemia. Janice explains what tests the doctors did to discover that she had leukemia. She then shows them her IV line and explains her chemotherapy. Despite her illness, Janice is determined to recover and return to school, so she can play on the swings and be with her friends again.
The news of Janice's leukemia hits Linus especially hard, as he appears to be falling for her. As Charlie Brown and Linus leave the hospital, Linus asks: "Why, Charlie Brown, Why?". He then walks home feeling both sad and angry, thinking about Janice's condition. When he arrives home, he challenges the ignorance of his sister Lucy towards the leukemia, and tells her cancer doesn't spread like the cold or flu. Some months later, Janice's life has improved enough for her to return to school, but she has lost her hair because of the chemotherapy, and wears a cap to cover her bald head.
At school, this attracts the attention of a schoolyard bully, who teases Janice for her baldness. Linus stands up for Janice and confronts the boy, angrily telling him about the leukemia, and asking him if he would like to go through what Janice has gone through. Then, the boy apologizes to Janice and Linus. As Christmas approaches, Linus goes to Janice's house to give her a present, but one of Janice's two sisters informs Linus that she is back at the hospital, receiving treatment. The other sister complains of the attention Janice has been receiving, and later admits she and her other sister feel left out since Janice got leukemia. Linus gives her the present and leaves.
By the beginning of spring, Janice returns again and tells Linus she has a surprise for him, and she reveals the surprise at the end of the special while playing on the swings. The surprise fills Linus with joy, as Janice's cap falls off revealing that her long blond hair has grown back even longer than it was before, marking the end of her chemotherapy, and presumably meaning that she has recovered.
This special also included a brief rendition of the hymn "Farther Along", sung by Becky Reardon. The song played in the background as a tearful and angry Linus struggles to make sense of Janice's illness.
- Kaleb Henley - Charlie Brown
- Brandon Stewart - Linus Van Pelt
- Adrienne Stiefel - Sally Brown
- Jennifer Banko - Lucy Van Pelt
- Olivia Burnette - Janice Emmons
- Dion Zamora - The schoolyard bully
- Brittany Thornton - curly-haired sister
- Lindsay Sloane - red-haired sister
- Bill Melendez - Snoopy and Woodstock
Production and reception
The idea for Why, Charlie Brown, Why? was conceived by Sylvia Cook, a registered nurse at the Stanford Children's Hospital. In December 1985, Cook sent a letter to Charles M. Schulz, asking him to produce a short animated film about cancer for young patients featuring the Peanuts characters. Schulz was initially doubtful because of the anticipated high production costs. Eventually, Cook received input from the American Cancer Society, which convinced Schulz to produce, rather than just a five-minute film, a half-hour special about the subject. Producer Bill Melendez and CBS initially balked at this idea, but eventually agreed to do it because of Schulz's enthusiasm for the project. The script of the special was completely written by Schulz, with Cook and the American Cancer Society serving as consultors.
Cancer was a subject with which Schulz was familiar; his mother Dena had died of cancer when he was in his twenties, and Schulz himself would succumb to colon cancer in 2000. The special has been shown in hospitals and in public education systems, primarily elementary schools and junior high schools, as a method for explaining the subject to children, and is also a part of the Pennies for Patients fundraiser campaign organized by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Paramount Home Video released the special on VHS in the mid-1990s, and is now available on DVD in the Peanuts Emmy Honored Collection. The special is available on iTunes. It should be noted that the special has rarely aired on US television since its original premiere; Disney Channel has re-aired it, while Nickelodeon and ABC, which at different points have held the rights to the Peanuts specials, have not. It has been seen on Boomerang in some European countries.
A book adaptation of the special, titled Why, Charlie Brown, Why? A Story About What Happens When a Friend is Very Ill, was published by Pharos Books some weeks before the special's premiere on CBS, and was reissued in 2002. The original printing featured a foreword by actor Paul Newman.
Critical reaction to the special was mostly positive, with reviewers praising it for its realism and poignancy, and for Janice's bravery in facing her disease. The special also holds the distinction of being the first time that an animated series openly addressed the topic of cancer. Two other series have also done so: the Ojamajo Doremi anime, in the twelfth episode of the OVA series Na-i-sho in 2004, and the Arthur episode The Great MacGrady in 2009.