A Boy Named Charlie Brown
(Bill Melendez, 1969)
This is a weird little film. The beginning few scenes are the best, with Rod McKuen's title song
setting the perfect, leisurely tone of a lazy summer day; followed by Schoeder stealing the show as he goes over signs with Charlie at the pitcher's mound ("They're right. You do look kind of cute standing there."). The scene of Lucy, as Charlie's hired therapist, using a slideshow to illustrate his many flaws is one of the film's other really funny moments, along with Snoopy's always enjoyable mugging for the camera.
The Oscar-nominated score (did you know that this film lost an Oscar to the Beatles?!) is all over the place, from the heights of Vince Guaraldi's score and McKuen's aforementioned title song; to the middle ground of the spelling lesson "I Before E"
; to the depths of "Champion Charlie Brown"
. The non-original music is even more bizarre, with, on the one hand, the film's inclusion of "The Star-Spangled Banner"
calling to mind The Parallax View
; and, on the other hand, Schroeder's performance of Beethoven's "Pathetique Sonata"
providing the foundation for the all-too-rare sequence in the film where the animation is actually interesting.
Wikipedia's summary of the art design is spot-on, so I'll just quote it here at length:
The film itself has moments where there is rotoscoping prevalent, as in the sequence when Snoopy skates, and bleached-out silhouettes of real hockey players are visible 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 particularly evident during the film's closing credits). 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.
Last line bolded for emphasis. In general, I actually enjoy the simplicity of the aesthetic of the typical Peanuts
specials, and I think it could be manageable even at feature length, but A Boy Named Charlie Brown
is frustrating in being too faithful to the comic strip form. The film almost never gives us a a second angle on a given scene, making the film willfully two-dimension, in very limiting ways. The few times that we are granted a second perspective on a scene are downright liberating, reinforcing just how confining the general style is.
I wasn't expecting much of a story in this film, just a collection of scenes, loosely is strung together, so the focus on Charlie's trip to the National Spelling Bee was something of a welcome surprise ... to a point. The film gets caught in that middle ground where the main story arc is so flimsy that it'd be almost better to have no story at all. You could honestly watch this film at 2x and really not miss much, excect for whatever subliminal messages are buried in one sequence (I need to grab some screenshots after posting this review and figure out exactly how I've been brainwashed). The languid pacing is such a jolting contrast to Keaton films I've been watching, many of which I wanted to watch at half speed to appreciate everything that's going on.
The film really could have used doses of Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Woodstock. I'm not hugely knowledgeable about Peanuts in general, but I definitely the absence of the full gang here. (Peppermint Patty appears in the film but doesn't say anything; regular Patty is one of the main characters, however. I'd forgotten there was a difference, which confused me.) Except for Schroeder, the kids are kind of irritating. Charlie Brown's "good grief!" misfortunes are nice in small doses, but he carries too much of the film and his neuroses wear out their welcome. Linus is appealing when he's being unexpectedly literate and worldly, but his separation anxiety from his blanket in the second half of the film is a one-note joke that quickly annoys. Lucy is just a horrible, horrible little brat. I hate her so much here, both as a person and as a character. She destroys the tone of the film whenever she's around.
All told, A Boy Named Charlie Brown
is a decently pleasant film at best, but really not that exciting and ultimately disappointing — and certainly not worthy of this list
C+A Boy Named Charlie Brown
and Snoopy Come Home
are both available to stream on Hulu.