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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the first full-length Peanuts feature film, is released here on Blu-ray (2016). Nearly 50 years after its release, the movie has not lost a bit of its charm, humor, thoughtfulness, or relatability. Charlie Brown, tortured by his own inadequacies and Lucy Van Pelt's constant reminder of his failures, hopes to finally succeed at something: a spelling bee! His odyssey from his own classroom to the national finals in New York City, with Linus and Snoopy nearly always at his side, is a study in conflicting emotions: dread vs bravery, giving up vs. determination, and winning vs. losing. Along the way, standout music, brief interludes with other Peanuts stalwarts, and Charles M. Schulz's cartoon magic and insightful messages all contribute to the humor and wisdom directed at kids. Certain insults, such as Lucy Van Pelt staples such as "blockhead" and "failure," may bother some parents but can be used to open discussion about disrespect and/or bullying. The few pratfalls (falls, baseball mishaps) are quickly resolved, with no injuries. Fine for all ages.
What's the story?
Poor Charlie Brown (voiced by Peter Robbins)! He just can't get anything right in A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN. His kite won't fly; his baseball team is losing again; he keeps falling for Lucy's (Pamelyn Ferdin) never-ending trick with the football. He's looking for one thing -- just one thing -- at which he can succeed. Linus (Glenn Gilger) is there for him, as usual, this time suggesting that maybe, just maybe, he can win his class's upcoming spelling bee. Charlie Brown doubts himself, but at least he's willing to try. And try, he does. And prepare, he does. His friends, particularly Lucy, are amazed by his early success. First his classroom is impressed, then the entire school. He does so well that he's on his way to the National Spelling Bee in NYC. Charlie Brown's odyssey is not without mishaps, but with Linus and Snoopy rooting him on in person, and the entire Peanuts gang watching from home, Charlie works hard and does his very best. Note: Charlie Brown's story is intercut with charming personal vignettes starring his buddies (spectacular skating with Snoopy; Linus loses his blanket; a musical interlude with Schroeder, Lucy, and Ludwig von Beethoven).
Is it any good?
If per the Peanuts' adage "Happiness Is a Warm Blanket," then this film is a sunny day with good friends in a cozy meadow. From the wonderful artistry of Charles M. Schulz's writing and drawings (the animation for Beethoven's Symphony #6, "Pathetique," is sensational), to the comforting recognition kids feel when they see their own ups and downs dramatized, to the well-defined distinctive personalities of all the central characters, Bill Melendez and his team made their very first Peanuts feature film both engaging and timeless. Almost 50 years later, it's easy to forgive the one misstep -- several corny original songs, written and sung by Rod McKuen. The central story in A Boy Named Charlie Brown, combined with the many integrated scenes in which other members of the Peanuts tribe shine, proves that even in their earliest effort this "gang" was expert at bringing what was originally a comic strip to life. Highly recommended for all ages, even grown-ups.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a wonderful example of "timelessness" in a work of art. How are the emotions, concerns, situations, and relationships as relevant today as they were in 1969? Can you give some specific examples?
Talk about the music in A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Can you identify the variety of musical genres included here? Have fun watching the movie again and note which sequences used classical sounds and which used jazz riffs. And how does the standard Peanuts theme music affect you? Is the familiarity comforting? Does it summon pleasurable feelings?
How does Charlie Brown cope with sadness and disappointment? What do you think Charles M. Schulz meant when he said, "Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia"?
- In theaters: December 4, 1969
- On DVD or streaming: September 6, 2016
- Cast: Peter Robbins, Pamelyn Ferdin, Glenn Gilger
- Director: Bill Melendez
- Studio: Paramount Home Media Distribution
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Brothers and sisters, Cats, dogs, and mice, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Music and sing-along
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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