Can’t wait for them to make It’s Your First Text Message, Charlie Brown.
Whoever came up with the idea of Valentine’s Day is an evil, evil person. In trying to determine the origins of this most-loathed day, I’ve come across several stories of different dudes named “Saint Valentine,” who were martyred and burned alive. As a child, I once heard the story of another “Saint Valentine” who was apparently in prison and wrote many love letters to his sweetheart on the outside, which led to the modern-day valentine card. Today, though, as a (sort of) adult, I can find absolutely no verification for this tale. It’s worth noting, nonetheless, that Valentine’s Day was seemingly born out of imprisonment, persecution, and death. Also, it takes place during the shortest month, in the middle of winter.
If you are someone who actually found love and romance on February 14, then, yeah, hooray for you. For the rest of us, by which I mean almost everybody, Valentine’s Day has less to do with hearts and flowers and candlelight dinners, and more to do with heartbreak, misery, and eternal loneliness. How many times have we decided that Valentine’s Day would be the day that we finally make a move on the one we’ve been crushing on, only to have him/her laugh in our faces, be embarrassed, or get so ticked off that he/she throws a hotel room telephone at us? There are two people who know this feeling very well (except for the hotel room telephone part. That’s kind of specific to…some of us). The first is cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, and the second is his famous creation, Charlie Brown. In Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, Schultz reveals Valentine’s Day for the devastating nightmare it truly is. Schultz does this through his trademark warm, gentle humor, showing us just how much a genius he was.
Although the 1975 Valentine’s TV special is the headliner on this disc, there are also two other well-loved specials here. You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, from 1967, and 1977’s It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, carry on the same themes through summer and fall, making for a nifty Peanuts trilogy of sorts.
• Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown
It’s Valentine’s Day, and all Charlie Brown wants is to get one, just one valentine, either in the mail or during his class party. Making the day even more painful is that love is in the air all around him. Best friend Linus has a special treat in store for his crush, his teacher Ms. Othmar. Sally, however, thinks she’s the one Linus is after.
• You’re in Love, Charlie Brown
Now it’s only a few days before summer vacation. All year long, Charlie Brown has hoped to muster the courage to strike up a conversation with the little red-haired girl in his class. With only two days left, will he man up and go for it, or will he forever be stuck on that lonely bench in the playground, merely watching her from afar?
• It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown
Summer’s over and it’s time for homecoming. Through circumstances not fully explained, Charlie Brown has been selected as the little red-haired girl’s escort for the homecoming ball. It’s up to him to walk her onto the dance floor and, according to tradition, give her a kiss, in front of everyone, to start the dance. Hoping to impress her, Charlie Brown plays in the school’s big football game, and he might have a chance of winning it, if weren’t for Lucy pulling the football away from him just before he tries to kick it.
It’s striking, almost shocking, how the specials on this disc—especially the first two—so perfectly capture the desire for love burning forever unfulfilled inside all of us. In the Valentine’s special, we see Charlie Brown dealing with the long, dull ache of waiting next to the mailbox for a card that will never come. Later, he sits in class with a hopeful smile as Schroeder passes out the valentine cards, one by one. If you know anything at all about good ol’ Charlie Brown, you probably know where this is going. Linus and Sally are equally lovesick, Linus for his teacher, and Sally for Linus. They believe this will be the best Valentine’s Day ever, only to have their hopes tossed like so many chocolate candies over the side of a bridge.
You might read the above thinking, “I thought this was supposed to be a cute kids’ cartoon.” That’s the brilliance of it—it is a cute kids’ cartoon, and at the same time, it speaks to the reality of failed romance, and the crippling trauma of rejection. Perhaps kids won’t be able to relate fully, but they will still care about these characters. The Peanuts kids are simply drawn, so to speak, but that also means their emotions are laid bare on the screen. The first time this special aired on TV, distraught children flooded the network and newspapers with real valentines, all addressed to Charlie Brown. That says a lot about the emotional weight these specials carry, and why they’re so fondly remembered.
You’re in Love, Charlie Brown picks up where Valentine’s Day left off. This is the simplest of the three specials. Most of the action is Charlie Brown sitting on a bench in the playground stressing on whether to go talk to the little red-haired girl. We’ve all been there, bro. On a lesser cartoon, this might have been tedious, but again, Schultz makes it work through his witty script, much of which was adapted word-for-word from his comics.
This special also makes good use of Lucy, and her unrequited love for Schroeder, whose only interest is in his piano playing, and, of course, Beethoven. Plus, it’s the first animated appearance of feminist icon Peppermint Patty. A lot of Patty’s usual shtick, including her own unrequited crush on Charlie Brown, isn’t played up here, but she does serve a key role in the plot, and it’s great fun to see how the other Peanuts regulars aren’t quite sure what to make of her.
Fan opinions about It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown are mixed, I’m told. Many enjoy this one and consider it a key piece of Peanuts lore. Others, though, feel it messes with the established Peanuts mythology a little too much. In the comic, Charlie Brown always talks about the little red-haired girl, but we the readers never see her. Instead, she lives only in our imaginations, which makes it perfectly believable that she’s the unattainable goal that our hero always hopes for. In this special, though, we actually see her on screen, believe it or not, and we even learn her first name. Some might consider this blasphemy, but seeing this as a kid, it was huge. It was, like, Return of the Jedi huge. It was weird new powers at the end of Superman II huge. It was the wedding at the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan huge. It was you-know-who returning at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire huge. I’m talking huge, here!
Childhood nostalgia aside, this special leans more toward straightforward comedy, as opposed to the cynical twist-the-knife humor of the first two. The football game takes up more than half the special, with opportunities for all manner of slapstick. Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, had clearly gotten more popular by this time, because the beagle is everywhere during the game. He’s the referee, he’s playing with the band, he’s in the stands, and he does his “spin his ears around really fast like a helicopter” gag so he and his pal Woodstock can cover the game from high above. Snoopy never fully upstages Charlie Brown with his antics, but he sure tries.
These three specials are filled with plenty of classic Peanuts running gags. There’s Lucy pulling away the football, the security blanket, the psychiatrist booth, Pigpen dirtying everyone up, cries of “Good grief!” and a certain World War I flying ace even gets a cameo. Everyone always talks about how prescient the Peanuts Christmas special is with its message about commercialism and the holiday. The Valentine’s Day special is also prescient at times, with its little observations about relationships and unrequited love. I look at the woes Charlie Brown and Linus ruminate upon, and I swear I see the same thing whenever there’s a lonely guy in a pub, sitting hunched over in the corner, crying into his Guinness. And although nothing could ever top the classiness of Linus reciting the story of the Nativity at Christmas, the creators give it a good try when Sally recites Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” in its entirety (with help from Snoopy).
All three specials are on disc with newly remastered audio and video. The picture looks soft, but that might be the choice of the animators or just due to age. Still, there are no scratches or other major flaws. The mono sound doesn’t fare as well. I had to turn the volume way, way up in order to hear everyone. New to this release is a featurette, “Unlucky in Love: An Unrequited Love Story.” This isn’t so much a love story, but the story of how the Valentine’s special was produced, and how well Schultz worked with his animation partners Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. The featurette also includes interviews with writers, cartoonists, and members of Schultz’s family about his work, and how much of his real life—and a real little red-haired girl—found its way into his comics.
These specials really are timeless. They successfully speak to the heart in a way that so many other works of art aspire to. Valentine’s Day is the most awful, tragic, and consistently disappointing day of the year, but thanks to Charlie Brown, we know we’re not totally alone when we’re suffering in the cold, damp, shadowy bleakness of the soul.