Yo Ho! Nightrider here!
A Boy Named Charlie Brown had its movie premiere on 4 December 1969 after the success of previous Peanuts TV Specials (e.g. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown’s All Stars!, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). It was a box office success, grossing $12 million and laying down a bigger legacy for Peanuts fans.
The films star the Peanuts gang with the plot centering on Charlie Brown finding a way to succeed in something in the form of a spelling bee. After being made fun of by Lucy, Violet, and Patty (not Peppermint Patty), Charlie enters and makes it to the school finals. Thanks to studying the rules of spelling (the segment is both musical and very informative) with Linus and Snoopy, Charlie wins the school spelling bee and is on his way to New York for the National Spelling Bee.
This classic broke the mold against the “Disney monopoly” according to a story by the Associated Press in 1971. Fred Calvert, an animation producer, commented to the Associated Press that A Boy Named Charlie Brown made a trend about storytelling: “You need to have a solid story and good characters, too. Audiences are no longer fascinated by the fact that Mickey Mouse can spit.”
The visuals are like the TV specials and the original Peanuts comic strip. However, Andy Warhol’s pop art is a major influence on several scenes. Director Bill Melendez (who famously voiced Snoopy) also put his Warner Brothers work in use on the backgrounds as he worked with Bob Clampett back in the 1940s. Also displayed were split-screen, watercolor background, rotoscope and more. But it still feels like a Peanuts TV special.
The music of A Boy Named Charlie Brown was composed by Vince Guaraldi and arranged by John Scott Trotter. Rod McKuen wrote “Failure Face,” “Champion Charlie Brown,” and the title song “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” The many instrumental pieces by Guaraldi permeate throughout the film and were given a “theatrical” fix with horns. The Guaraldi classics “Skating” and “Linus and Lucy” remain a memorable staple in the Peanuts music catalog because of their movie reinterpretations and the memorable scene with Snoopy skating at Rockefeller Center. It shows that with Guaraldi’s music you don’t need to sing a song to get your point across; Guaraldi and Trotter were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score but was beat by The Beatles’ score for their documentary film Let It Be.
So give A Boy Named Charlie Brown a chance and learn why this film helped pioneer good storytelling. You can also learn a lot of spelling rules too!