In a departure for the TV version of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? explores a serious topic: cancer. Janice, a sweet, golden-haired classmate of the Peanuts gang, is diagnosed as having leukemia. The half-hour follows Charlie Brown and Linus as they visit Janice in the hospital, learn what cancer is and how it is treated, and come to terms with their feelings about this upsetting situation.
Like most popular art created to instruct, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? can be stiff and pedantic. Made with the cooperation of the American Cancer Society, the show proceeds like a children’s instructional text: Here’s what happens when you have cancer; here’s how your friends and siblings might react; here’s why you’d feel sad or angry or confused.
At its best, Why, Charlie Brown, Why? uses the well-established personalities of the Peanuts characters to address various attitudes and common reactions.
For instance, it’s the clumsy Charlie Brown who, faced with the sight of Janice in a hospital bed, blurts out the fearful question ”Are you going to die?” And eternally cranky Lucy embodies Susan Sontag’s illness-as-metaphor principle by snapping angrily, ”Janice probably got it because she’s a creepy kid.”
Parents of young children should note: Janice doesn’t die-she undergoes chemotherapy and recovers, and her golden hair grows back. Why, Charlie Brown, Why? probably will raise many questions in your kids’ minds. If you plan to let your children watch, try to be there to answer them. B