It’s Cancer, Charlie Brown

WHOA! Hold the phone. Everybody out of the pool!  My trip down memory lane just took a wrong turn!  More like it was derailed.

Was on the interwebz looking up some of the old cartoons that I remember from my childhood so I could show some of them to my toddler.  She especially loves anything with music.  So we got through the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and that Garfield Christmas show.  So I went on to look  for A Charlie Brown Christmas.  I hadn’t found the whole episode, but had stumbled across some Charlie Brown episodes I didn’t remember seeing as a kid.

*spoilers for Why, Charlie Brown, Why?    Yes, I actually put in a spoiler alert, cuz you never know who would be pissed if I ruined the ending of this kid’s cartoon for them.

And that’s how I ended up watching Why, Charlie Brown, Why?  Charlie Brown shows have always had their melancholy moments.  Charlie Brown is usually outcast or made to feel unloved in many of the episodes, and there are whole passages where there is little to no dialogue, only a strange piano music (that reminds me of the Cosby Show.)  So as I watch this particular show/episode, it opens with Linus noting the peculiar amount of bruises on his little friend’s arms.

Ooookay.  Well, these kids talk about some weird shit sometimes, and in an even weirder adult manner.

The little girl, whose name is Janice, mentions she never used to bruise so easily.

Noooo.  They wouldn’t do an episode about that…

References to her feeling ill and thinking she has a fever.


I stopped right there and looked up the episode on Wikipedia.  Yup.  It’s about cancer.  Airing in 1990, it is considered the first animated series to tackle the subject.

“Why, Charlie Brown, Why?”

Granted, as I continue watching, I note that the explanation of Janice’s leukemia is vastly simplified.  I understand the show is addressing the issue to a fairly young audience, but it occurs to me as I watch that it does children no good to have this issue sugar-coated.  For instance, when asked if she will die, Janice explains that there are treatments for leukemia and she thinks she’ll get well.  Sadly, we as adults know that this is often not the case.

The process of her treatment (chemotherapy) and the effects it has on her health also seem a bit simplified as well.  But I guess in such a case, it would be left more up to each individual child’s parents to decide how much explanation their children could handle in regards to the subject of terminal illness.

To the writers credit, they also attempt to address issues that are tangential to the idea of a child returning to class after having undergone chemotherapy, such as ignorance, bullying, and insensitivity. For instance, Janice returns wearing a pink ball cap, having lost her hair.  Linus ends up having to defend her when another little boy teases her about her cap and her baldness.  Linus grabs the kid and shakes his fist at him, all the while yelling at him about how he has no idea what Janice has had to go through.  The  other kid, properly chastened, apologizes and tries to make up for his meanness by complimenting Janice’s hat.

There is also a segment of the show that also seems to touch on Janice’s siblings and their feelings of loneliness and jealousy over the “attention” that Janice is getting because of her illness.

In the end of the episode, Janice returns to school once again after some more treatments and she whips her hat off and her head is full of hair again.  Guess this is supposed to signify she is “all better.”  End of story.   Well, yes.  Vastly simplified.  No mention of remission or recurrence.  But, hey, it’s for little ones.  Or maybe the show’s writers should leave the heavy topics to the parents.

What’s your opinion?  You can check out the episode HERE.  It’s not very long.  I realize now there are many shows that tackle serious subjects for a younger audience, and I would guess that the newer shows and ones like these each have their merits.  Weigh in, if you like.

On another note , there are clearly some episodes of these old shows I missed.  Maybe that’s for the best.

22 responses to “It’s Cancer, Charlie Brown

  1. Whoa. My big, round head hurts. Had to google, but the Xmas and T-day shows predate me, and are barely younger than me, respectively. By 1990 I wasn’t watching such things, and didn’t have tv for a few years afterward. I can’t quite wrap my head around this one.

        • Well, it’s depressing because Charlie rescues this crappy little tree and the other kids tease him and ostracize him about it. SO typical CB bullshit. LOL My hubby doesn’t care for Peanuts either.

        • If you missed the point of Charlie Brown’s Christmas either that is really sad or you simply are not Christian and you don’t get The Peanuts. Linus is a self labeled “Old Theologian”. In other words, he knows his bible passages well and can apply them to every day life!

        • You can tell by Mosey’s condescending tone that he is “Christian” and not Christian. Because, clearly, just because we didn’t like CB Christmas, we must not be all that bright…or something. o.O Additionally, Mosey, if this episode is supposed to help address the issue of cancer with children, which this show was geared towards (because I would wager animated shows for adults were far less common when the Christmas ep was initially aired, than they are today) are they also trying to subliminally couch Christianity in the Christmas episode, (since if us ADULT non-“Christians” were too dull to get the biblical references or whatever, and there’s no WAY a child would?) I mean, for all the talk of the spirit of Christmas, I don’t recall Jesus specifically being a big focus.

    • I would like to point out that the rate of survival for childhood cancer has increased significantly since 1990. In the mid 80’s it was around 30 to 40% survival rate for leukemia but it is now 80% or higher!

  2. Charlie Brown is supposed to be “Dopey” fun, you know? I don’t much care for stuff like this — it’s definitely too heavy. Plus, it defeats the purpose of cartoons; the reason being to escape from reality for awhile — rather than dwelling on it. A note aside, I raced to my dictionary to look up the word “tangential” — thank you for expanding my vocabulary by 1 word today (:

    • No prob! I live to be bombastic 😉

      And while I don’t have issues with the idea of kids’ shows attacking serious subjects in and of itself, I remember Charlie Brown mostly (except for feeling bad for CB always being an outcast) fondly, and I’d like to keep it that way.

    • Sadly, children do get cancer and that child or their siblings may need help to understand what is happening. Hence we need specials like Why Charlie Brown Why to make it easier to address the subject with children.

  3. W-w-w.. What did I just WATCH!?

    I like how the “C.B.S Storybreak” intro suckers you in…


    *rocking guitar theme*

    And now on CBS, Cancer.

    … I hope I’m the only one who raised their eyebrows at Linus promising to give Janice a good ride in the spring. He is the best at pushing her on the swings after all…

    Also, every awkward Peanuts joke is made 78,043,678 times more awkward by the looming spectre of the Big C.

    Anyway, thanks for the… entertainment (?) To reciprocate, here is a cartoon I remember seeing as a small child and being utterly confused by. I’ll leave you to discover the theme…

  4. I actually watched this in elementary school as a kid, I think it was good for me. It made me aware not to make fun of ppl when they look different

  5. I missed this one too, fortunately. I saw a lot of the Peanuts stuff, but I was never a big fan. There was something creepy about kids living in a world without adults (who were represented by that wah-WAH-wah sound). The piano accompaniment only added to the sense of gloom and melancholy for me. No foolin’.

    But for pure pathos, the thing that broke my heart as a little boy was Nestor, the Long Eared Donkey. That and the trucker song, Teddy Bear.

    • Yeah, Peanuts definitely always has a melancholy air about it… Among my list of heartbreakers… The Last Unicorn, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows (book). That last one I’m willing to bet I was the only fourth grader who had to run to the bathroom while reading so no one would see me crying.

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