What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is exceedingly intense. It doesn’t start intense, though it does start a little different. There’s this gradual shot–with Judy Munsen’s lovely score accompanying–moving through all the toys in Charlie Brown’s house before it gets to his bookshelf. The books with visible spines are heady classic novels; but Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten) is getting down his picture album. He’s got to put in some snapshots from his trip to France–Learned is direct sequel, time-wise not tone-wise, to the theatrical Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown–and Sally comes over to ask what he’s doing. So he tells her about the events of his trip after the movie.
His recounting starts as comedy. It’s Charlie Brown, Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg), Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas), Marcie (Michael Dockery), and Snoopy and Woodstock. Snoopy is driving because when it’s a bunch of eight year-olds without adult supervision, it’s best to let the beagle drive. Even if he does get into multiple accidents throughout the special. After Snoopy wrecks the car and gets into a fight with a flock of ducks, the kids have to rent another one. Good thing Marcie speaks French (she’s the only one who does).
Up to this point, Learned is well-produced–great animation, excellent direction from Melendez, that Munsen music, and a strong script from Charles M. Schulz–but nothing particularly special. Then the kids camp out for the night and Linus realizes they’re on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. He goes down to the beach and, through rotoscoping, “sees” the D-Day invasion. The rotoscoping colorizes the black and white footage with bold, bright colors, creating a wonderful tonal contrast between the Peanuts kids’ adventure and the history they’re encountering.
Once the other kids wake up, Linus tells them where they are and all about D-Day. They explore the area, culminating in a walk through the American cemetery, with an Eisenhower speech accompanying them. Learned got intense starting with Linus’s beach visions. The cemetery tour, which is visually magnificent, just ratchets it up even further.
There’s some more humor–really good physical gags–to calm things down. Then they get to Ypres, a World War I site, and Linus tells the other kids about it. The WWI sequence is much shorter–no rotoscoped footage–and initially seems like it won’t be as affecting as the D-Day sequences. Then Linus starts reciting John McCrae’s poem, *In Flanders Field*, with accompanying visuals, and it devastates. Munsen’s music plays a big part, effectiveness-wise.
Schulz wraps it up–before a gently comedic bookend–with some succinct profundity. It’s all very intense.
Great script, animation, direction, and music. Schoenberg is excellent with the lengthy expository monologues. The rest of the cast is good, they just don’t have the heavy lifting Schoenberg gets.
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is spectacular.