SUMMARY: Janice is a new girl at school who befriends Linus. Their budding romance is put on hold when Janice is diagnosed with leukaemia.
WHY IT’S HERE: The first thing Peanuts fans will notice about ‘Why Charlie Brown, Why’ is the darker colour palette. Although the short begins with fairly standard antics involving Snoopy trying to hitch a ride on the school bus and Sally trying to get out of going to school, it all plays out under a depressing grey and black skyline. The key to these ominous colours lies in a small but significant moment during these opening scenes in which new girl Janice bumps herself while getting on the bus and is upset that her bruises are not going away lately. This is because Janice has cancer.
It becomes clear fairly quickly that ‘Why Charlie Brown, Why’ is quite different from other Peanuts shorts. While it is interspersed with little comedy interludes courtesy of Snoopy, the majority of this laudable TV special focuses on helping children understand the experience of going through a serious illness, both for the sufferer and those around them. So we get an honest account from Janice herself of the procedures she undergoes and how they make her feel but we also get to see the jealousy that all the attention Janice is getting provokes in her sisters. We see the ignorant fears of catching cancer through Lucy’s cold attitude towards the situation. But most of all we see Linus’s emotional journey as the life of the girl he likes hangs in the balance. It is Linus himself who intones the philosophical title and, in a heartbreaking scene, he loses it completely with a school bully who laughs at Janice’s newly bald head.
The idea for ‘Why Charlie Brown, Why’ came from Sylvia Cook, a registered nurse who wrote to Charles Schulz with the suggestion. Though Schultz was initially doubtful, he eventually produced a wonderful TV special the taps into the emotions involved in such a situation without being overwhelmingly downbeat. The ending, which I won’t spoil here, is particularly emotional and ends the film on a perfect note. Shown in schools and hospitals as well as on TV, ‘Why Charlie Brown, Why’ was further evidence of the ambition behind the Peanuts specials beyond simple entertainment. The tricky subject of cancer would not be tackled by an American children’s cartoon again until 2009 when the brilliant series ‘Arthur’ focused on the subject in the episode ‘The Great MacGrady.