Reviews: A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Silver Screen Charlie Brown, that has a lovely ring...

Good Ol' Charlie Brown's first foray into the big screen may well be his best one, not to mention a dead-to-rights '60s animation classic in its own right. Though a Big Damn Movie as to be expected, it sacrifices little of the simple and intimate homespun charms of the television specials, and by extent, the original comic strips. Its moral of "It's OK to screw up" has Values Resonance that hasn't aged a day; if anything, it's more resonant than ever as kids are forced into a fruitless chase after someone else's idea of "success" at earlier and earlier an age.

Following the movie's first third featuring one of CB's biggest Trauma Conga Lines (and conversely, Lucy's harshest series of "helpful advice") our unlikely movie hero finds he has a talent for spelling. Though satisfied with merely having proven his worth to his classmates, he is inevitably roped into going to the Big Stinkin' City for the nationals. Thusly armed with the "loving" support of his fairweather friends, and Linus' blanket for good luck (which goes about as well as you'd expect; John Lennon can relate), will it be Sydney or the Bush for Charlie Brown? (Though even if you've had enough Peanuts to be sufficiently Genre Savvy, nothing can prepare you for the pain.)

I'm not big on the trappings of psychedelic '60s animation á la Yellow Submarine, but they use the better parts of the aesthetic to great effect here, with a vibrant colour palette, and a hip and pop-arty use of animation effects and screen space, particularly as part of the genuinely exciting baseball scenes. The extended "Pathetique Sonata" sequence wouldn't be out of place in Fantasia, and Snoopy's ice skating/hockey fantasy sequence is equal parts cheerful Christmas magic and far-out Technicolor bebop madness.

Though the songs are a bit hit-and-miss, they're thankfully brief and a bit of an afterthought. Though I must say, Rod McKuen's bittersweet main theme is a microcosm of the film. The rest of the score—as to be expected from Maestro Guaraldi—is probably the best part of the movie, with John Scott Trotter providing a full-bodied big band sound for Guaraldi's already-iconic themes, suffusing the entire movie with an infectious Golden Age Hollywood energy. Though Guaraldi's involvement as an actual musician is a little more sporadic than I would like, he makes the most of it with some of the most inventive and playful solos of his career.

Full of smiles and tears, A Boy Named Charlie Brown is one of the best products to bear the hallowed Peanuts brand. It stands toe-to-toe with the best of its animated contemporaries, and is nothing less than the gold standard for silver screen Charlie Brown.

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