Western Animation / Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

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"...Are you going to die?"

First aired on CBS in 1990, this Peanuts special (the 33rd overall) is notable as the first animated cartoon to tackle the subject of cancer. Sadly, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz would lose his own battle with the disease a decade later, but his approach to the topic was a brave move and has been celebrated and replayed for decades (although finding it on video was trickier, as the Trivia page will tell you).

On an autumn day, Linus notices his classmate Janice is getting a lot of bruises and feeling tired, so he convinces her to see the nurse. When he learns about Janice and her cancer diagnosis, Linus starts to go through a change. As Janice's treatment for cancer progresses, the seasons changes to symbolize this, and Linus becomes stronger for being emotionally affected by the issues, even going as far as to grow a pair and chew out Lucy and a schoolyard bully.


Tropes used:

  • Adult Fear: A little girl in your class becomes sick for no reason, and develops a potentially incurable disease. The special was made a mere few decades after revolutionary treatment for leukemia was found and was entering wide circulationnote ; up until the 1950s-60s, childhood-onset leukemia was a death sentence, as afflicted children would simply bleed to death from the lack of platelets. Charlie Brown and Linus demonstrate this fear best:
    • Charlie Brown says that cancer sounds scary and asks, "Are you going to die?"
    • Linus does the Title Drop because he cannot find an answer for why someone he likes, and who has done nothing to deserve it, is struck at random with cancer.
    • Janice's sisters bear the emotional burden of watching their sister go through painful treatments, while being neglected in turn. After venting to Linus, they manage to say that Janice's pile of presents looks nice.
  • Bald Woman: Janice becomes one after getting chemotherapy.
  • Barbaric Bully: A subplot has Linus confronting one of these.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played with. Janice does lose her hair from the chemotherapy, but when we see her in remission, her hair has grown back to its original length much, much faster than it would in real life.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: A bully removes Janice's hat, which covered her baldness, and then loudly mocking her baldness until she cried. Linus then proceeds to verbally destroy him.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: As Janice describes her treatment, Charlie Brown reacts viscerally to her describing them taking samples of her blood and bone marrow and asks her if it hurt.
  • Canon Foreigner: Janice Emmons, who was invented specifically for this special (though apparently Linus already knew her). She didn't end up integrated into the wider Peanuts cast, to the frustration of some.
  • Children Are Innocent: Clearly points this out, except in the case of Lucy and the school bully.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Janice is very matter-of-fact about her treatment, even about the painful bone marrow sampling and her chemotherapy.
  • Determinator: Janice vows to get better so she can play on the swings with Linus.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Janice enters remission, can play on the swings with Linus, and grows her hair back.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The normally weak Linus find it in himself to defend Janice from Lucy and a bully when they mock her, yelling at the former and almost getting into a fight with the latter.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Very notable.
    • Charlie Brown asks Janice, "Are you going to die?" and Linus calls him out for it. Janice then says it's okay, since she asked the same question to her doctors.
    • Janice gives a detailed explanation of her cancer treatment, even pronouncing long words like "intravenous tube" and "chemotherapy."
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Downplayed with Janice's sisters; they reveal to Linus that since she got sick, they've received less presents or attention from their family. When Linus lets them vent, and tells them they really do care about their sister, they do take take time to appreciate her pile of presents knowing how happy she'll be.
  • Kick the Dog: The bully does this to Janice by tossing away her hat and announcing loudly that she's bald. He ends up paying for it.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Janice Emmons.
  • Mood Whiplash: Following Linus's visit to the hospital and him calling out Lucy, we get a cute scene of Snoopy taking Woodstock and his friends sledding, probably to give the viewer a breather.
  • Never Say "Die": Probably one of the biggest, most notable aversions in modern children's programming; the special makes absolutely no bones about the fact that Janice's condition is life-threatening and is willing to discuss it at length. Charlie Brown even famously comes right out and asks Janice if she's going to die from her illness. It's also one of the elements that makes the special as effective as it is.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Linus does this upon Lucy discovering he was visiting Janice, and had checked her forehead for a fever. Since Linus knew he can't catch cancer like a cold, he yells at his normally bully of a sister for her remarks. Linus goes as far as standing up against a school yard bully for making fun of Janice's baldness, a side-effect of chemotherapy.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Linus, all the way! You know he's way out of character when he finds it in himself to actually yell at Lucy, a person who usually intimidates him with her fists, not to mention verbally tearing a bully apart for mocking Janice's condition.
  • Parents as People: We don't see them, but Janice's sisters mention that with all of their parents' attention focused on Janice, they don't get as much notice or care. While her sisters understand why this is the case, since they're also worried about Janice's health, they also feel a little hurt.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Linus throughout Janice's treatment has demonstrated Tranquil Fury at best when people show insensitivity towards her condition, but when a bully mocks her for being bald, he verbally tears the bully apart.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Janice is a Canon Foreigner that happens to be friends with Linus.
  • Sadist Teacher: Linus has one that mocks him for checking Janice's forehead and telling her to go to the nurse,
  • Shown Their Work: Janice gives a detailed explanation on her treatment, including her bone marrow being sampled and the chemotherapy that makes her sick, while also making clear that being sick from the treatment is preferable to dying from untreated leukemia.
  • Title Drop: Linus does this on the way home from the first time he visits Janice at the hospital.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Linus manages to stand up to both his sister and a bully.
  • Tranquil Fury: Linus towards Lucy when she thinks that he contaminated a glass of milk she ordered him to get for her with Janice's cancer.
  • Very Special Episode: An extremely notable example - this special was the first to address cancer in an animated format, at least in the English language. A great many of the Very Special Episodes about illness and whatnot in the 90s and beyond were attempting to copy this special and achieve the same impact it had (and said impact was significant).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In a wider Peanuts sense. By the end of their trials and travails, Linus and Janice have basically become a Puppy Love couple; if not an actual "item", at the very least they should remain an incredibly important part of each others' lives, right? Unfortunately, in wider Peanuts works Janice rather vanished after this; she didn't become a regular in the strip for Schultz's final years of life, and she didn't even really cameo in the later Peanuts specials. This really felt weird to 90s Peanuts fans, who figured Janice was going to become a regular on at least the level of someone like Pig-pen or Schroeder. This also had the unfortunate effect of codifying another aspect of the Very Special Episode that people find annoying: the tendency for the character in question to fall off the face of the earth after the episode is done.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Subverted in one case; Linus calls out Charlie Brown for asking Janice "Are you going to die?" but Janice says it's okay, since she asked her doctors the same question.
    • Played straight when Lucy freaks out on Linus touching Janice to check for a fever, worried that he'll pass on "cancer germs" to Lucy. Linus first tries to calmly explain to Lucy that you can't catch cancer the way that you have a cold, but she won't listen and orders him to take away the glass of milk he just brought her. Linus refuses, because he doesn't want to catch her crabbiness.


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