Wednesday, November 23, 2022

It’s (an Attitude of Gratitude) Charlie Brown!

Thanksgiving this week has brought up the time to ponder and think a little on gratitude. Earlier, we looked up “Thanksgiving” on out tv, looking for a movie that sort of related to it, and lo and behold, what popped up was The Peanuts Movie, the 2015 film created by Blue Sky Studios and Charles Schulz’s son and grandson Craig and Bryan Schulz. This wasn’t something I had thought would be very much on the theme of Thanksgiving, and having considered myself a fan of Peanuts for pretty much my whole life, I was kind of shocked that I hadn’t seen the movie yet. My daughter and I managed to finish it, and we both really loved it! What came of the movie was a wave of nostalgia and enjoyment that was both poignant and timely, and I just had to write about it, including how I think it really does relate to gratitude.

The Peanuts Movie is very true to the comics and the history of Peanuts. It’s well thought out, well-considered, and is faithful to Charlie Brown (voiced here by Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame), Snoopy, and the whole cast of characters, including the kit-eating tree. The Peanuts adaptation into 3D was a genius homage to all the animation that came before it, and must be seen in motion to appreciate fully. The film is a little less melancholy than some of the specials I’ve seen in the past, but it isn’t without those moments. It does end on quite a happy note, but it is still all very real in the way it does; I hope I don’t spoil it too much (for those, like me, who slept on this one) by going into some detail there…

With past specials like Arbor Day, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas, they all involve some level of Charlie Brown failing to an extent: a storm rains out the game that they were starting to win, or the only valentine Charlie Brown gets is a previously used one, or the Christmas tree for the pageant can’t even hold  up an ornament—these all are just screenshots of some of the moments that Charlie Brown feels like he hasn’t succeeded. It’s in those moments that I think we all can relate, even if it’s sometimes on a more “serious” scale as we grow into adults, and it’s not something I fully appreciated as a kid. Life was easier and simpler then, and now it’s full of setbacks and challenges. I think it speaks to good writing when stories written for kids can touch us as adults too. In the movie, the formula for failure is turned on its head: here, Charlie Brown actually gets 100% on a standardized test, the first kid in the school to do so, which propels him into immediate fame, and was given an award for it, along with an honorary “Charlie Brown day” at the school. Earlier, He had failed to get the attention of the Little Red Haired Girl at the dance, and he had embarrassed himself at the talent show, and so this was the thing that he had held onto to buoy his self-worth. In a twist, at the award ceremony, he is given the perfectly scored test, and realizes it wasn’t his! He can’t accept the award, and he leaves the stage emptyhanded. To top it all off, a beautifully written essay on War and Peace that he wrote is accidentally shredded by the Red Barron wind-up biplane. He feels dejected.

Following a powerful allegory of Charlie Brown’s inner conflict portrayed by Snoopy’s battles with the Red Barron, Charlie Brown is asked by a random kid in a park if he can help him fly a kite. He ends up giving the kid advice, and it flies beautifully! Even when he couldn’t get a kite to fly, he was able to see and appreciate the good in other people, and says: “You can do it, don’t give up!” This plants the seed that he isn’t a terrible person, and a pep talk from Linus gives him the strength and courage to realize that maybe he can succeed, and he finally speaks up and talks with the Little Red Haired Girl before she leaves for summer camp. Their conversation is insightful, as she greets him by name:

“Oh, hi Charlie Brown!”

“You remembered my name?”

“Of course I did!”

“Before you leave, there’s something I really need to know: why, out of all the kids in our class, would you want to be partners with me?”

“That’s easy, because I’ve seen the type of person you are!”

“An insecure, wishy-washy failure?”

“That’s not who you are at all!”

“I liked the compassion you showed for your sister at the talent show, the honesty you had at the assembly, and at the dance: you were brave and funny! And what you did for me—doing the book report while I was away— so sweet of you! So when I look at you, I don’t see a failure at all: you have all the qualities that I admire!”

Charlie Brown is a good man, even if he doesn’t always see it that way. That’s one of the reasons I love this character, because I so often am not cognizant of my own good qualities, I forget to give myself a fair shake. You know how long of a time Charlie Brown was feeling sad for himself? All the way from winter to the start of summer break. I’ve experienced long stretches of time where I’ve dealt with failures and inadequacy: it’s easy to fall into that trap. Often the answers to my problems have been right there all along, I just needed to have listened. I just needed to see, to remember, to appreciate.

Which is really why I think this movie works as a Thanksgiving movie after all: because giving thanks and gratitude, it’s all about learning how to see good in the world, and showing our appreciation for how and why that goodness exists. We can thank our friends for who they are. We can spend time with them. We can remember names, and we can help them and be there for them, even when they’re feeling down. We can thank God for the goodness in our lives. Gratitude for all of these things is a springboard into greater appreciation for ourselves, and greater capacity to act as well. We can continue to be there and to offer advice, as Linus did at the beginning of the movie:

“Remember, it’s the courage to continue that counts!”

And later, Linus gave this crucial advice:

“Charlie Brown, it might be time to consider the wild possibility that you’re a good person, and that people like you!”

In the office of Dallin H. Oaks hangs a recreation of Maynard Dixon’s The Forgotten Man. It depicts a man sitting on the ground by the gutter as streams of faceless, careless people walk past him. His face is in the shadow, and the back of his head is illuminated by the sun. We can be that man, as Charlie Brown was, and feel like we have no contribution, or that we aren’t appreciated. Yet the Lord knows each of us. He knows the words and the balm that will heal us, and make us whole. Gratitude, an attitude of it and trying to give it not only to others but to ourselves, is part of that healing, and that understanding is why he hangs that picture in his office, to remind himself to who gratitude for what we have, and to show that gratitude by helping to reach out to those who are struggling. A huge part of gratitude is remembering, much like the Little Red Haired Girl remembered Charlie Brown, and a huge part of gratitude includes remembering to show that thankfulness:

“Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; … and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:1, 3)

As then-President Uchtdorf said:

“May we ‘live in thanksgiving daily’—especially during the seemingly unexplainable endings that are part of mortality. May we allow our souls to expand in thankfulness toward our merciful Heavenly Father. May we ever and constantly raise our voices and show by word and deed our gratitude to our Father in Heaven and to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

And I would add, let us show that gratitude by being merciful and grateful to those around us, and to ourselves as well. Life is full of challenges, but we don’t have to let them overcome us! We can reach out, we can love, we can sacrifice, and we can be grateful, and it will work together for our good. Those are just a few of my thoughts after watching The Peanuts Movie, and so I hope you can get something from it too.

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