There is a moment during It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown when Snoopy, aka the World War I Flying Ace, is crossing the French countryside at night alone when something happens to me.
Or happens inside me.
However you want to put it.
There he is, the Flying Ace, shot down in the face of his boundless courage and now stranded behind enemy lines. He bumbles across the strange land, making his way past burned-out towns and abandoned villages, sneaking across the late autumn fields of a war-ravaged country, never stopping his momentum, his quest for a friendly face.
In the moment I am talking about though, in the exact second that I am referring to, we see our old friend Snoopy swim slowly across a wide French river beneath a shimmering harvest moon.
It is one of the saddest most beautiful moments of any film or TV show that I have ever seen. I’ve watched it three times in the last week. And each time I watch it, at that precise moment when the greatest dog who ever lived is maybe halfway across the current, my daughter, Violet, always blurts out to no one in particular,” Snoopy’s sad!”
And oh, how it breaks my damn fatty heart, my brother.
I have no idea why either.
I’m a grown man for God’s sake.
I have no damn clue why I get sort of choked-up at this part of a freaking cartoon that zillions of people have probably watched with a mouthful of potato chips or evening ice cream and Diet Mountain Dew and never once even came within three galaxies of coming close to breaking down emotionally even a wee bit.
Maybe it’s the way my Violet is blurting out what she’s blurting out, her treble-y voice breaking the silence, my baby girl so matter-of-factly pointing out the beautiful sadness that the Peanuts gang somehow perfected on the screen.
Maybe it’s the majestic look of the thing, the way that creator, Charles Schulz, and his longtime TV animator, Bill Melendez, were able to use a minimal amount of perfect detail to capture some seriously raw humanity whenever they brought Charlie Brown and Lucy and the rest of them into our living rooms.
And maybe it’s the two Victory Prima Pils beers I’ve already had by the time Snoopy eases in to that French river each of the last few times I’ve been watching the DVD.
I just can’t put my finger on it. But one thing is for certain.
It ain’t the only time during the show I almost break down like a baby.
A few years ago I read a biography of Charles Schulz.
I decided that I had to after I had bought my daughter who was just about a year old at the time a bunch of Peanuts movies and shows to watch. She liked them; for a while it was all she would look at on the TV. I am happy to say that some of her first clear words in this lifetime were ‘Charlie Brown’ and ‘Snoopy’.
But to be honest, something weird happened, and it was me, her dad, who ended up being blown away by the cartoons I’d bought for her. It started slow at first, a peek here and there, a whole viewing now and then. But then, more and more, whenever I would stroll in to her room to check how she was faring as she danced around and then stared and then danced some more in front of the screen, I became enchanted with the shows.
I’d stop for a second, set down the laundry basket or my laptop for a sec and find myself on the carpet with Violet watching Great Pumpkin or the Thanksgiving special or You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown or whatever one I had stuck in the DVD layer to keep Violet entertained while I was doing stuff around the house.
It brought back memories to be sure. I grew up watching most of these Peanut shows; who didn’t?
There was more to it now.
I found myself seeing something pretty grand and captivating for the first time in my life. I started seeing the shows and these kids in a way I hadn’t ever seen them before. They were tough. They were kind of worn down. But they were still excited for the next holiday, for the next ball game anyway. They were kids, but yet…somehow they weren’t kids, if you know what I’m saying.
Charlie Brown and Linus and Sally and all of them…it suddenly dawned on me…they weren’t cartoon characters, man.
They were literary figures.
They were tragedy and comedy.
They were the Great American Novel.
I blew my own mind up, realizing all this stuff. I bought the book about Schulz. His life was a roller coaster rid, but he never stopped drawing his gang.
He never stopped believing in them. And he never gave up on them either.
Do you know the scene when Linus is out in the pumpkin patch late at night and his sister, Lucy, gets out of her bed and goes to see if he has come home yet?
Yeah, I almost cry at that one too.
I mean, how can you not, right?
The big sister, the hard-headed tough-loving big sister with no allowance for any bullshit ever sneaks down the nighttime hall to peek in on her little brother, the dreamer who is so certain that the Great Pumpkin will come on Halloween night, only to find his bed empty.
No words then.
No words, man.
Just the lightest ping of Vince Guaraldi’s superb piano in the background and Lucy putting on her coat and heading out into the freezing Halloween darkness to fetch her brother. The way she finds him, the way she brings him back home, the way he turns on his back mid-sleep when she lays him in his bed: it’s all just too much for me.
Down in there, down in the middle of the whole story somewhere, down in the middle of this cartoon from 1966, I may be way wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that the secret to life has been standing in there in full view for almost 50 years, just hoping and waiting for our sore tired eyes to spot it.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will air this year at 8pm EST on October 31st on ABC TV.