Good grief is right. More than 50 years on, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang are more miserable than ever. Creator Charles Schulz passed away in 2000 but, like Walt Disney and Jim Henson, his legacy endures with a steady stream of product, in comic strips, TV specials, and lunchboxes.
A Charlie Brown Valentine, a 2002 TV special, is now available on DVD (and will re-air on television for Valentine’s Day). The set includes two earlier, equally angst-ridden specials, There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown (1973) and Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie Brown (1981), all showing how romance, like life, remains an uphill battle for Snoopy’s pals.
In Valentine, as in Peanuts’ classic Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween outings, the kids approach the holiday with skepticism. Unrequited love abounds: Sally (voiced by Nicolette Little) loves Linus (Corey Padnos), her “Sweet Baboo” who only has eyes for his security blanket; Lucy (Lauren Schaffel) digs Schroeder (Christopher Ryan Johnson), fervently devoted to his baby grand; Peppermint Patty (Emily Lalande) and her four-eyed peon Marcie (Jessica D. Stone) both pine for Charlie Brown (Wesley Singerman), still head over heels for the Pretty Little Redhead.
Alone together, the masochistic crew is united by a shared inability to act on their desires. “I’d like to buy a box of candy for a girl who doesn’t know I exist, please,” Charlie Brown asks a store clerk (unseen, unintelligible, and uninvolved, like all Peanuts grownups). With the Valentine’s Day Dance and card exchange looming, Charlie plummets into an existential crisis, and not even Lucy’s five-cent “Psychiatric Help” can cure his “deep-down-black-bottom-of-the-well-no-hope-end-of-the-world-what’s-the-use loneliness.” When the girls ask Snoopy to ghostwrite love poems for their crushes, they reject his sarcastic verses (“Your eyes are like two supper dishes”). Nobody gets who they want when the dance rolls around, except for party crasher Snoopy (Bill Melendez), who effortlessly cuts a rug with the Pretty Little Redhead.
The elusive carrot-top is nowhere to be found in Someday You’ll Find Her in which Charlie becomes a full-on stalker after he spots a cute blonde in the crowd at a football game on TV. Here, Charlie’s desperation takes on a disturbing intensity; his pathetic quest for love isn’t just delusional, but also potentially destructive. “Two seconds are all you need to fall in love… If I don’t find this little girl I’ll go crazy,” he tells Linus. The only limit to his obsession is his crippling insecurity. When, enlisted by Charlie to find her, Linus finally rings the girl’s doorbell, he takes the blanket-toting honey for himself, leaving Charlie in agony. “Yesterday I was almost happy,” he says, right before the credits roll.
In Who Has Time For Love? romance is secondary to the overwhelming stress of school. Gesturing toward a pile of homework, Peppermint Patty laments, “How can one fall in love, with all of these stupid things to do?” Everyone’s fretting over an impending art museum field trip and the essay to write afterwards, but no one more than Charlie Brown, who must score an A or fail the entire semester. “I worry about my worrying about so much about school,” he acknowledges. “My anxieties have anxieties!” Even as grammar school students, the Peanuts feel trapped in a lifelong cycle. Linus surmises, “The purpose of going to school is to get good grades so you can go on to high school… So you can go on to college… So you can go on to graduate school… So you can get a job and be successful and get married and have kids and send them to grammar school.”
Yet, these three specials aren’t Kafka for kids. Schulz tempers the head-splitting anxieties of childhood with a deftly sweet comic touch. What’s more, he employs an irresistible antidote to the anguish: Snoopy. With no human grown-ups in sight, Snoopy is the kids’ only reliable chaperone and role model, and manages to tag along even on the most dog-inappropriate excursions (like the art museum field trip). Utterly unburdened by self-doubt, he’s quick to laugh, smooth with the ladies, and never stingy with his affections, arriving at the end of Valentine with a wheelbarrow overflowing with cards for all. Snoopy offers a glimpse at what happy adulthood might hold in store.