Since the 1965 debut of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters have appeared in more than 40 animated specials. The classics leave us feeling warm and fuzzy; others leave us wondering, “What were you thinking, Charlie Brown?”
Charlie Brown’s All Stars! (1966)
Plot: A recurring storyline in the Peanuts comic strip is Charlie Brown’s woefully bad management of his woefully bad baseball team. In this special, Charlie Brown quits baseball for good after his team loses by more than 100 runs. He’s coaxed out of retirement by Mr. Hennessey (voiced by a trombone, of course), a hardware-store owner, who offers to sponsor Charlie Brown’s team and give them new uniforms. But there’s a catch—the league is “boys only,” so he’d have to cut Lucy, Violet, Frieda, Patty, and even Snoopy. Unwilling to sell out his friends, Charlie Brown turns down Mr. Hennessey. To cheer him up, his teammates make him a new uniform…out of Linus’s security blanket. (Linus is traumatized.)
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown! (1968)
Plot: After becoming increasingly annoyed by Snoopy’s getting into mischief, the Peanuts gang insists that Charlie Brown take action. Caving to their demand, Charlie Brown arranges to send Snoopy to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for obedience training. Instead, Snoopy runs off and hides out at Peppermint Patty’s house. After he wears out his welcome by using her pool and drinking all her root beer, Peppermint Patty forces Snoopy to earn his keep as her maid. A few days later, when Snoopy breaks some dishes, Peppermint Patty sends him to the garage. He realizes he’s better off with Charlie Brown and runs away, back home to his doghouse. Everybody’s happy to see him again and assumes he’s learned his lesson, but he soon returns to his bad behavior. No lessons are imparted.
Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971)
Plot: Frustrated by the fact that her crush, Schroeder, never notices her, Lucy commiserates with Sally and Peppermint Patty, and Patty comes up with a plan: Schroeder, she says, will fall for Lucy if she can get him to play piano at a PTA concert. Schroeder agrees and it looks like love is in the air…until Patty tells Lucy that the PTA wants rock ’n’ roll, not classical music, and that Schroeder can’t play any Beethoven (his favorite). Lucy hires Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Pig Pen to be Schroeder’s backing band, but Schroeder, unwilling to compromise his musical integrity, refuses to perform at the last minute. Patty is upset that the PTA is without a program; Lucy saves the day by whipping out a spray can of “PTA program entertainment.” (Really.) The next day, Lucy insults Schroeder by telling him that Beethoven “never would have made it in Nashville” because he didn’t have “the Nashville sound.” Schroeder storms off.
There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown (1973)
Plot: Overwhelmed by schoolwork, Charlie Brown decides he’ll improve his grades with an elaborate class project about a local art museum. Complicating matters, both Peppermint Patty and Marcie have feelings for him and decide to help him out. Together, they take photos of the art museum’s displays…unaware that they are actually in a supermarket and are taking pictures of the store’s shelves. He realizes the goof too late and has to move ahead with his project, which his teacher (voice of a trombone) loves, assuming it to be some sort of Warhol-esque commentary on modern art. Result: Charlie Brown gets an A. He doesn’t get the girls, though—he rebuffs both Patty and Marcie, declaring his undying love for “the Little Red Haired Girl.”
It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (1976)
Plot: By 1976 the Peanuts gang had celebrated Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Election Day, and was starting to run out of holidays with which they could impart “the true meaning.” In honor of Arbor Day, Charlie Brown and his friends decide to plant trees…in the middle of their baseball field. Only problem: they have a game against Peppermint Patty’s baseball team scheduled. Charlie Brown comes up with a plan: outfit the trees with baseball gloves and caps. Amazingly, Patty’s team is unable to score against an outfield full of trees. Meanwhile, Lucy, having been promised a kiss from Schroeder if she hits a home run, knocks one out of the park. Just as Charlie Brown’s team is about to win their first game ever, it starts to pour and the game is canceled.
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983)
Plot: In this one, Charlie Brown learns the true meaning of Memorial Day and commemorates the 39th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. This one takes place after the events of the theatrical film Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back)!, in which Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Snoopy, and Woodstock go to France. When their car breaks down; the gang winds up stuck in a small French town. Snoopy goes into his “World War I Flying Ace” persona, convincing a French lady that he’s a real pilot, and she rents the group a replacement vehicle. They continue their journey and go to a beach—Omaha Beach—where Linus teaches the gang about the horrors of combat. Then Linus recites “In Flanders Fields,” a famous World War I poem about the inevitable result of war. At the end of the special, Linus and Charlie Brown stand in a field of red poppies on an old battlefield. Linus asks, “What have we learned, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, to whom he’s been telling the story and showing photos of the trip as he puts them in an album, responds with, “You’re pasting your pictures in upside down.”
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (1990)
Plot: If you think the horrors of war are too heavy for a children’s special, you might want to skip this one. In this special, Charlie Brown and his friends learn about childhood cancer. Linus befriends Janice, a new girl in school. One day, she’s not feeling well and leaves school. Later that week, Linus’s teacher informs their class that Janice is in the hospital. Charlie Brown and Linus visit Janice in her hospital room, where she tells them she has leukemia and explains her chemotherapy treatment program. In a particularly poignant scene, Linus asks Charlie Brown the existential question “Why?” Of course, he has no answer, leaving Linus to ponder his mortality. In another scene, after Janice returns to school, she is taunted by a playground bully when he discovers she’s lost her hair because of chemo. Fortunately, the producers pulled their punches in the finale—Janice recovers, grows her hair back, and happily joins Linus at the swing set.