Who Are You, Charlie Brown? Review: A Moving Love Letter to Peanuts and Creator Charles Schulz
The Peanuts characters -- Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, Woodstock, and so many others -- are more than just beloved comic strip characters and the Peanuts gang has left an indelible mark on pop culture and entertainment in the six decades since the very first strip debuted on October 2, 1950. But while many Peanuts fans know the characters -- especially the "loveable loser" Charlie Brown -- they perhaps aren't as familiar with the man behind the characters, Charles M. Schulz. Apple TV+'s new documentary Who Are You, Charlie Brown? tells that story, offering fans of all ages insight into the man behind these timeless characters while also offering a new Charlie Brown story in a feature that both entertains and inspires.
Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is a little unconventional as documentaries go as it features two stories. One is an animated Peanuts cartoon that follows Charlie Brown as he gets a heavy school assignment to write an essay on the topic of "who are you?" That cartoon follows Charlie Brown worrying and stressing about that deeply existential question and looking to those in his life -- his sister, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Pigpen -- to tell him who he is. That story is woven through the more traditional documentary that details Schulz's life, offering his story and how he first became interested in cartooning and how the various Peanuts characters came to be, revealing interesting and sometimes surprising anecdotes along the way.
It's an interesting approach to presenting the story, but it's effective as it drives home the idea that the Peanuts characters were all created from aspects and elements of Schulz's life. As viewers learn more about Schulz, the Peanuts gang becomes more and more real, in a sense, something that, for longtime fans, will offer a deeper connection to the characters and the stories. Also interesting is the inclusion of interviews with people from Schulz's life who worked with and knew him, as well as those who were inspired by his creations. The result is a brief but very charming and thoughtful look at both creator and creation.
It's that brevity that could, perhaps, be one of the film's main flaws. With a run time of under an hour, Who Are You, Charlie Brown? certainly moves at a good pace and keeps the viewer engaged, but it, at times, doesn't feel like quite enough time to really dig into some of the more interesting stories. Specifically, the origin of Franklin, the first Black Peanuts character, is a story that deserves a bit more time. Another limitation is the animated storyline. While a new Charlie Brown adventure is always a delight -- and younger viewers, in particular, will enjoy this one -- Charlie Brown's assignment is such a heavy one that, when that story ends, it almost feels a bit incomplete.
Who Are You, Charlie Brown? is a love letter both to Peanuts and to Schulz. It offers fans a beautiful bit of insight into the character and the creator in a family-friendly and welcoming way that is sure to bring new fans to the adventures of Charlie Brown and his friends. While the feature could stand to be a bit longer and some of the stories within it could stand to be expanded, it's a charming film that reminds us that Charlie Brown -- and indeed all of us -- is more loveable than loser.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Who Are You, Charlie Brown? debuts on Apple TV+ on June 25th.