Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad

AIRDATE: 2/10/89

STORY: Remember trains, kids? This installment of This Is America, Charlie Brown is dedicated to the First Transcontinental Railroad, 1800 miles between Nebraska and California, completed in 1869. It's arguably the most involving and therefore moving story in the entire miniseries, and I recommend it most highly. Charlie Brown narrates this true tale in the straightforward manner it deserves, hailing the bravery and ingenuity of the many thousands of workers while not whitewashing over the difficulties initially faced by the Chinese workers who provided the greatest support of all.

Kids can get a real appreciation for what a feat this was. "Back in my day" is a hoary phrase intended to make younger generations somehow get it around their knuckle heads that what they see as hardships now are really not all that trying compared to the effort, will and risk required by such projects as this. The very idea of so much manual labor required will probably make your average Twittering teen pass out and break their Iphone.

It's also a good reminder of what can be great about America, and how much undeniable good its people have done in the name of unity. The competition between the Central and Union Pacifics captivated the country in a way that really only half-brain reality shows and overblown health risks can do nowadays.

There is of course much undeniable bad done in the name of patriotism. There are films out there that deal with those dark events. This is not one of them. 10

MUSIC: Harmonica-driven soundtrack that perfectly fits the visuals, but the stars here are the Winans, who harmonize such standards as "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "The Battle Hymn of the Old Republic". It's very tasteful, and helps provide the viewer with a real feeling of the lesson in community that lies at the heart of this story. 9

ANIMATION: 9. Lots of nice color on the trains. Not exactly sharp drawing, but not slipshod either. The spike-driving "anvil chorus" is a recurring scene done superbly.

VOICES: Erin Chase as Chuck, Brandon Stewart as Linus, and Curtis Anderson as Schroeder all get 8s. All do well, especially Chase, who has by far the most to say of all the kids. I like how old-school Schroeder sounds, though.


--In addition to the usual array of original pictures from the various sites, the producers also reveal for the very first time who drove in that final golden spike in Utah. Shit is mad historically accurate!

--Must kill cactus! Weeee!

--The only real "hey don't forget this is a cartoon" silliness comes when Spike happens upon a saloon and treats the fellas to a harmonica gig. Promptly getting tossed out on his emaciated puppy ass when he knocks over a table.



I'm scared.

--This special shows the famed picture (shot May 10, 1869) of workers gathered at Promontory, UT to celebrate the railroads completion. Mention is made of the fact that none of the Chinese workers appeared in the picture, and it is suggested that racism was the cause of their exclusion.

This FAQ shines more light on the subject, citing several sources that claim the Chinese were not included because, simply, they were not there.

--You know what would be a great American project? Finishing I-70 so that it goes into California. Fuck Cove Fort.

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