A Boy Named Charlie Brown Original and Limited Edition Art (1968)
The film was partly based on a series of Peanuts comic strips originally published in newspapers in February 1966. That story had a much different ending: Charlie Brown was eliminated in his class spelling bee right away for misspelling the word maze ("M–A–Y–S" while thinking of baseball legend Willie Mays), thus confirming Violet's prediction that he would make a fool of himself. Charlie Brown then screams at his teacher in frustration, causing him to be sent to the principal's office (A few gags from that storyline, however, were also used in You're in Love, Charlie Brown).
A Boy Named Charlie Brown, while directed and produced by the same team of Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson, who were responsible for all the Peanuts television specials (Phil Roman directed later TV specials starting around the mid-1970s), has many different aspects that most of the specials did not explore in a visual sense. 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.
The movie premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, only the third animated feature to play there after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Bambi (1942).
The film was well received by critics and holds a 95% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.
Time praised its use of "subtle, understated colors" and its scrupulous fidelity to the source material, calling it a message film that "should not be missed." The New York Times' Vincent Canby wrote: "A practically perfect screen equivalent to the quiet joys to be found in almost any of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strips. I do have some reservations about the film, but it's difficult—perhaps impossible—to be anything except benign towards a G-rated, animated movie that manages to include references to St. Stephen, Thomas Eakins, Harpers Ferry, baseball, contemporary morality (as it relates to Charlie Brown's use of his 'bean ball'), conservation and kite flying. "
The movie was a huge success at the box office, earning $12 million. In its first week at Radio City Music Hall, it grossed $230,000, including a record $60,123 on Saturday, December 6. In its second week, it grossed $290,000 which made it number one in the United States.
A 1971 Associated Press story argued the success of A Boy Named Charlie Brown "broke the Disney monopoly" on animated feature films that had existed since the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. "The success of 'Peanuts' started a trend", animation producer Fred Calvert told the AP, "but I hope the industry is not misled into thinking that animation is the only thing. 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 film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, but lost to The Beatles' Let It Be.Click here for more information about A Boy Named Charlie Brown!
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