BOOTLEG FILES 584: “How Did You Happen to Get Snoopy, Charlie Brown?” (2017 fan film based on the Charles M. Schulz characters).
LAST SEEN: It is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: The unauthorized use of copyright-protected characters.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
There has been so much talk about childhood bullying in recent years that it is difficult not to recognize the role that Charles M. Schulz played in encouraging this negative environment. Yes, the creator of the long-running and beloved “Peanuts” comic strip used the concept of casual bullying as a light comedy theme focused on the character Charlie Brown. But let’s face it, the idea of a young boy constantly being harassed and insulted for his alleged stupidity, lack of personality, lack of athletic ability and overall clumsiness is not exactly hilarious in principle – and the fact that Charlie Brown’s tormentors are never punished or are very rarely remorseful for their malice is equally problematic.
This aspect of the Schulz cartoon world was plumbed for dark comedy in a pair of celebrated underground films. Jim Reardon’s 1985 “Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown” took the abuse of the title character to violent extremes, with the much-maligned “blockhead” getting a Peckinpah-worthy revenge by gunning down his enemies. The 2002 “A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa” added a scatological element to Charlie Brown’s humiliation, with the soundtrack of the classic Christmas special replaced by a new X-rated script laced with urban sexual slang and politically incorrect commentary.
But the genuine anguish that a child such as Charlie Brown would feel when faced with cruel playmates is on display in a sincere animated fan film that recently went online. “How Did You Happen to Get Snoopy, Charlie Brown?” takes the “Peanuts” story back to slightly before its 1950 newspaper debut, where the roots of the bullying could have begun.
The dialogue-free film opens with Charlie Brown leaving his home and going to a neighborhood playground. He is enchanted to see two kids playing on the swings – Shermy and Patty, who appeared in the very first “Peanuts” cartoon strip with Charlie Brown – as well as Schroeder flying a kite. No one acknowledges him by name, which gives the impression that Charlie Brown is new to the neighborhood and unknown to the children.
After accidentally walking into a slide, Charlie Brown ascends its steps and spies a sandbox at the far end of the park. He goes down the slide and goes to the sandbox, where a pair of boys are building castles. A smiling Charlie Brown gets into the sandbox at the other end, takes a pail and shovel and starts to build his own castle. The boys are unhappy with his presence, and one steals the pail when Charlie Brown is not looking. But when Charlie Brown continues playing without the pail, the boys fill the purloined object with sand and dump it over Charlie Brown’s head, creating a giant sand tower. After he shakes himself off, the boys laugh at Charlie Brown, who is visibly upset at what occurred. All of the children in the playground join in, laughing and pointing at the sand-soaked child.
And then, something happens that I’ve never seen in a Schulz cartoon strip or in any of the television and film productions inspired by “Peanuts”: a tear drops down from Charlie Brown’s eye as his face turns to a whimper. He holds his hands over his eyes and bows his head, silently crying. The little tormentors surrounding him abruptly stop and look on in sorrow at what they’ve created. It is one of the most striking and heartbreaking moments captured in an animated film, and in the course of a few seconds it completely demolishes the breezy mean-spiritedness of the half-century of Schulz’s output.
Charlie Brown’s mother arrives – we don’t see her face and she speaks with the waa-waa distortion of the television shows – and picks him up out of the sandbox to take him home. That night, Charlie Brown has a dream reminding him of what transpired, which leaves him sad again.
The next day, Charlie Brown is asked by his mother what he wants for his birthday – this is accomplished by a thought balloon containing a gift-wrapped box bearing a large question mark. Unable to decide what he wants – he considers and vetoes a kite and a baseball glove – he is driven by his parents to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. As Charlie Brown falls asleep in the back of the car, his parents go inside and emerge with a gift-wrapped box. When he opens it, he finds a small dog bearing the name tag Snoopy. The friendless boy and the dog hug and dance in the back seat, and later that night they lay down together in Charlie Brown’s bed.
“How Did You Happen to Get Snoopy, Charlie Brown?” was created by Pablo Rio Gomez. I have no idea who this talented person is – at the moment, I can find nothing online to detail his background or current output. His animation perfectly captures the raw look of the early 1950s “Peanuts” drawings, when Charlie Brown was at a pre-kindergarten age and Snoopy was a puppy. And Gomez includes a couple of clever in-jokes: the license plate of the Brown family car reads “10-02-50” (that was the date “Peanuts” debuted in print) and the hem of Mrs. Brown’s dress has the same jagged line that was central to Charlie Brown’s favored shirt.
In the film’s closing credits, Gomez acknowledges that he does not have the rights to the “Peanuts” characters, and he gives acknowledges the music from various “Peanuts” productions that were borrowed for his soundtrack. As a fan film, it is unlikely this will ever be included in a commercial home entertainment release. But it can be viewed on YouTube and it deserves to be appreciated.
And, also, a special thank you to Jerry Beck and Chris Sobieniak for alerting me to this fine short via Facebook. Hey, who says that Facebook is a waste of time?
IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.
Listen to “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with a new episode every Monday.