Who are you, Charlie Brown is streaming now on Apple TV+
First published in 1950, Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts became one of the most famous global comic strips. However, its origins were born in a small local newspaper under the title, Li’l Folks. Here, Charles Schulz or Sparky to his family and friends would begin to shape the style and vision of his work. While at the same time, giving birth to Charlie Brown, a boy who would reflect many of Schulz childhood experiences. It is here where Michael Bonfiglio’s delightful and loving documentary of Schulz begins. His life, creativity and talent viewed through the Peanuts gang he loved and cherished as Charlie Brown asks, who am I?
Over the twenty years since Charlie Brown and Peanuts retired from the press following the death of Schulz, they continue to win new hearts and minds. Their enduring appeal rooted in the intelligence, wit and charm of their creator. A man who dedicated his life to a diversity of character’s who changed the comic strip world forever. But, as Who are you, Charlie Brown? demonstrates the lasting legacy of Schulz work goes far beyond the pop culture popularity of his characters. Here, Schulz belief in diversity, unity and hope dovetailed with an honest, loving and intelligent dissection of childhood. The result a comic strip every kid and adult could relate to, each character representing the diversity of our world. Each story a loving tribute to the anxieties, magic, belief and disappointment that surround childhood experience.
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Narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, we are taken through Schulz life from a childhood full of insecurities to his service in World War II and eventual work as an artist and storyteller. And while the documentary occasionally lacks depth in exploring Schulz creative drive, it lovingly and delicately unpicks the origins of each Peanuts character. While at the same time offering us a portrait of a man who dedicated his life to the evolution, love and protection of both his hand-drawn and real-life family. But, where Who are you, Charlie Brown? truly excels is in its ability to dovetail a comic strip story with a lovingly crafted documentary.
Bonfiglio delicately mixes the intelligent comedy, joy and anxieties of Charlie Brown with a chorus of interviews, including Drew Barrymore, Noah Schnapp, Kevin Smith, Billie Jean King and Keith L. Williams. Each interview reflecting the cultural impact of Peanuts on every generation. While at the same time exploring the comic strip themes of childhood psychology, development, diversity and acceptance. The resulting 56 minutes joyfully reflecting how Peanuts continues to inspire new generations. Here, Schulz treasure trove of over 18,000 comic strips is far more than just a pop culture phenomenon. They reflect humanity, hope and a belief in a better world, a message we need now more than ever.
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Meanwhile, Bonfiglio also explores Peanuts’ cultural impact on TV, starting in 1965 with the feature-length A Charlie Brown Christmas. Its premiere creating the template for Peanuts on-screen for the next thirty-five years. Schulz characters coming to life surrounded by the beautiful jazz-inspired score of Vince Guaraldi, leading to a further forty-four magical and timeless TV specials.
But, the Peanuts journey is far from over, and with Apple TV now taking up the reigns, we have already been treated to Snoopy in Space and the brand new Snoopy Show. Here, the new Apple TV era echoes the beauty of the 2015 Blue Sky animated film The Peanuts Movie while returning to the style of the Schulz TV specials. And while watching Who are you, Charlie Brown? one thing becomes clear; we need Charlie, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Franklin and the gang in our lives more than ever. So, I say, bring on the next seventy years of Peanuts because a world without Charlie Brown is a world that’s forgotten to love.