It’s the White Whale, Charlie Brown!

A daydreaming introvert, I sometimes catch myself thinking about how strange and esoteric human connection seems to be sometimes (at least to me), like ancient arcane rituals that our mortal minds cannot comprehend. What makes connections happen? What exactly do they feel like? How do they function? What makes them last? I’m overthinking things, I know, but, I can’t help it! We live in a scary, fascinating world filled with unique people that I doubt can ever be fully understood, and yet we’re practically expected to—somehow—know and get along with each other.

I’m not sure if I can ever fully grasp the concept, but there are two beautiful movies, The Peanuts Movie and The Boy and The Beast, that explore why it’s worth accepting anyways. One is a playful, nostalgic tribute to the comics and animated specials preceding it, while the other is a Miyazaki-esque fairy tale filled with gorgeous animation and introspective themes. Together they show how easily one can connect to others and why it’s important to do so in the first place.

Both films have awkward, lonesome heroes that struggle to accept themselves while striving to connect with others. The Peanuts Movie features Charlie Brown falling head-over-heels for the cute, redhead girl that’s joined his class. In The Boy and the Beast, Ren runs away after his mother dies, soon stumbling into the mystical Beast Kingdom and becoming the apprentice of Kumatetsu, a monkey-bear-man-thing.

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Both heroes desperately want to prove themselves. Fueled by the hate, rage, and envy that can only come from loneliness, Ren wants to become strong and self-sufficient, hence his apprenticeship under Kumatetsu. Feeling like an unworthy nobody, Charlie Brown resolves to become somebody that’ll impress the redhead girl, joining talent shows, entering dance-offs, and even doing a War and Peace book report in one weekend. Their feats, while impressive, clearly stem from feelings of inadequacy, fueling the darker thoughts hiding within them (and yes, there is darkness in The Peanuts Movie…just, you know, not dark darkness). It’s reminiscent of that same social anxiety I’m sure many of us have felt at times: the pressure to make yourself look good and put others at ease by saying and doing the right things at their proper cues. If you screw up or crack under the pressure, you fear you’ll be sad and lonely forever or lose any sense of self you have left

Their anxieties, manifesting in different ways, threaten to suffocate and destroy both Charlie Brown and Ren. The darkness inside Ren appears as a dark, swirling vortex in his chest, a literal hole in his heart. Ichirokiho, a rival harboring that same darkness, succumbs to it and attacks Ren with it. Since The Boy and the Beast refers to the novel Moby Dick as an analogy for battling inner demons, the darkness attacking Ren takes the shape of a whale, lurking in the depths before it strikes. Believing that the darkness within them–their frustration, anger, pain, and hate–invalidates them from coexisting with others, Ren confronts Ichirohiko in the climax ready to sacrifice his life to defeat him and the dark whale, proclaiming “we’re not fit for this world.”

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As someone who’s had eerily similar thoughts while alone in a room full of people, that line still gives me chills.

On the other, less-melancholic hand, The Peanuts Movie has a subplot with Snoopy as the Flying Ace, fighting to win back his beloved Fifi from the dreaded Red Baron. While acting as a great action set piece running parallel to Charlie Brown’s slice-of-life plight, it’s not hard to also see it as a metaphor for Charlie Brown facing his true antagonist: his self-doubt. His hindering feelings are always circling above, ready to furiously rain down on him as soon as things don’t go his way, which they usually don’t. On their own, Charlie Brown and Ren nearly succumb to their darkness, believing that’s where their identities lie, but it’s thanks to the bonds they’ve made that they’re triumphant.

Charlie Brown strives to create a new identity for himself to make a friend, but he doesn’t have to. All he has to do is cherish the connections he already has, drawing his real self out as he does it. For instance, he repeatedly sacrifices his chances to become a winner in order to help someone else, like when he benches his impressive talent show act to save his sister’s floundering performance. Even though he feels like nothing—the exact time anyone would want to indulge themselves—Charlie Brown never stops considering those around him, holding himself to a higher standard. Letting himself be himself, his good heart blooms from his interactions with others, which the redhead girl notices and admires. At film’s end, she praises him for his virtue. Just as Flying Ace Snoopy wins the day with the help of Fifi, Woodstock, and friends, it’s through the inspiration and encouragement of others that Charlie Brown realizes he’s a good man after all, finally defeating the Baron.

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Guys, I think Charlie Brown might be my hero.

Not only is human connection easily accessible, but it’s absolutely necessary if we ever hope to get anywhere in life. Kumatetsu and Ren are two of a kind, both seeking strength and recognition to compensate for their solitude, but it’s through that kinship of loneliness that they’re able to connect, finding ways to adapt to each other’s rhythms and improving each other’s fighting styles. Both wind up achieving strength they could never attain on their own, which impacts both their respective worlds while saving their lives. Thanks to Kumatetsu, who puts everything on the line for him, Ren defeats the dark whale and realizes the power to carve his own path in life, with the support of those around him.

By cherishing others and letting them in, both heroes let themselves out, achieving their true potentials. Both films express that our darker feelings and thoughts are pushed back by this life-giving cycle, but they never truly go away. Crippled but not defeated, the Red Baron and the white whale slink away, patiently waiting until they can strike again, but, with the right people in our corners, they’re much less terrifying now.

As someone who gets tempted to question whether I can or should better connect with those around me, doubting the good it–or I–could do, both films encourage me. My biggest take away: allow yourself to take joy in the fact that you’re a valuable, amazing person that can–and will–impact others as they impact you. No amount of fears or emotional struggles can change that, and you’d be doing everyone a disservice, especially yourself, if you let yourself think otherwise.

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