STORY: What do you say about a 25-year-old special that was recently reborn on DVD?
Charles Schulz watches Flashdance, and dedicates a single solitary strip to Snoopy updating his classic dance style as "Flashbeagle". The drawing of a Bealsy beagle proved too tempting and within the next year the world would have It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.
(This is a clear take-off of the Flashdance phenomenon, not disco, as some people have claimed. Certain scenes mimic Saturday Night Fever, but that's it. The music is not disco at all.)
The "story" is flimsy as a dryer sheet in a tornado. The first images we see are of a football game between Snoopy's smash squad and P. Pat's preteen pounders. After each TD, Snoopy dances hilariously. Apparently, the shaking of the groove thing has become an obsession for Snoop, 'cause when he gets back home, he pulls a boom box out of his doghouse and proceeds to burn up the grass underneath his feet.
Back to Peppermint Patty, in school with Marcie. She falls asleep, sits on her best friend's head, and gets her little Jimmy Durante nose caught in her binder. Straight from the strip are these vignettes, but if you're curious as to how this advances any sort of plot, well...it doesn't. Songs, not sighing existentialism, provides the beef of this show. You might be a vegetarian.
It starts with Patty leading the gang in an invigorating workout while warbling "I'm In Shape"; Lucy takes over a hoary party game and turns it into "Lucy Says"; then it's time to blow the filthy jug and do the "Pig Pen Hoedown".
Charlie Brown doesn't have his own song, but he does have a fishing rod up his ass--again--about Snoopy's independence and general un-dog tendencies. Go cry, round headed kid.
The culmination of all this randomness is one of the most extraordinary, hilarious sequences in Peanuts animation. It's enough to see Snoopy in the bathroom, blow drying his ears to Rage-worthy afro puffs. It's great watching him get dressed, turning an orange turtleneck into a hot dance outfit. But to witness this ineffably cool character moving his little John Travolta legs down the sidewalk as the soundtrack blares, stopping only to stomp his feet and clap his hands to either Franklin or Franklin's twin brother breakdance, then finally entering a club bursting with decidedly grown-up characters and just destroying that fucking game of Simon doubling as a dance floor, blowing everyone else away with impregnable arrogance, undeniable skill, unflappable cool--y'all, I don't know if it was the intention of Schulz and crew to encapsulate everything that was hysterically brilliant about the most O.T.T decade of human history but they did it. Fantastically.
In one final nod to the strip, Sally takes a beleaguered beagle to school for Show and Tell. It's all rather dull till some weird kid takes a boom box out of his desk and gets everyone dancing. Which pisses off Chuck when he finds out, but baby sister will hear none of his grief: "You just leave him alone. That's the first time I've ever got an A in Show and Tell." Snoopy is the coolest.
This is the most dated Peanuts special ever--and it's not even close. But later you'll read why I don't think that's a negative. 8.5.
ANIMATION: 8. Jittery in places, and the colors don't have much life to them. I'd rank it a 7 if not for the Flashbeagle sequence, where the animators seemed to put all their resources and energy.
For those not up on their 80s trivia, Marine Jahan was the real Flashdancer, performing all the moves in film while Jennifer Beals got all the credit. You just gotta love Schulz and 'em, 'cause if they were gonna do a goddamn show based on Flashdance, they were gonna get the real deal. Using Jahan's moves as their model, the animators used rotoscoping--the process of drawing a character over live action--to make Snoopy a dancing wonder. See some of the magic here.
MUSIC: I am an 80s freak. I was born in '77, and my childhood was MTV coming through the non-HD set late at night after my dad left for work and my brother busted out the illegal cable converter. Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Prince, of course we loved the legends. But our hearts had room for the endless parade of one-hit wonders as well: Rockwell, A Flock of Seagulls, Big Country (any band that puts their name in the title of one of their songs is winning). I loved it then as a stupid kid, and love it now as a somewhat-wiser adult. Supra-pop, baby. So how do you think I feel about the tuneskis here?
The kids solo numbers are not as terrible as you may hear. (I have a Peppermint Patty fanatic friend who loathes these.) It's jarring to see Patty in leotards, but the idea is pristine: Jill Schulz was apparently quite the aerobicizer. "I'm In Shape" is innocuous fun, right down to that wholesale "Mickey" jack in the middle.
"Lucy Says" is the best of the bunch, because it fits the character totally. Lucy putting her peers on notice and bossing them around makes absolute sense.
"Pig Pen Hoedown", eh? Schulz never cared for the young filthmeister much; too one-note. Couldn't really get great ideas out of a kid whose whole schtick was he was just dirty all the time, and not just dirty but like spectacularly foul. Pig Pen made a fantastic impression by just being who he was, but name a great story in the strip with him. I can't. He had no unrequited love, no particular emotional quirk, he was just grubby. Awesome for giving nicknames to hippies, but little else. Also I've never been much on hoedowns unless Homer Simpson is leading them.
Then we have the theme song. Composed by future weddeds Ed Bogas and Desiree Goyette (the latter of whom shares singing duties with Joey "Last American Hero" Scarbury), "Flashbeagle" is not on the level of "Hungry Like the Wolf" (the pinnacle of 80s pop) but is definitely the superior of "(Don't You) Forget About Me" (the nadir of 80s soundtrack pop--apologies to those of you who still reminisce on your first broken heart to that song). It's a clear take-off on Michael Sembello's "Maniac"--peep those stabbing piano chords--and the lyrics are just unbelievably great.
He steps on the floor without making a sound
Then he starts feeling the beat
You would think the floor was greased
By the way he's moving his feet
He's a champion
He is the best
Impossible to tame
People say that he's obsessed
Listen to the sound of his name
They call him Flash- Flash- Flash- Flash- Flaaaashbeagle
When he goes around the whole room starts to reel
You know he's Flash- Flash- Flash- Flash- Flaaaashbeagle
When he jumps up high he glides like a wild eagle
Lightning flashes when he leaps up
He's got everybody shouting for more
Thunder crashes when he hits the ground
He's burning up the dancin' floor
From the fur on his feet to the tip of his nose
He's got rhythm pumping all through his veins
He spins like a top that'll never stop
With the power of a hurricane
VOICES: Brett Johnson is a rather workaday Charlie B. (7.5), but he's so put-on. Dog cooler than him, he has to sing Pig Pen's song. Aw man. Gary Goren does Schroeder, and I'm as impressed as you'd imagine. 5. Gini Holtzman (Patty) and Keri Houlihan (Marcie) are flawless as the best pair of buddies in the Peanuts universe (yep, even better than Snoop & 'Stock). Patty in particular steals what of the dialogue there is to steal: "I'm so dumb I wish all classes were gym" (said, mind you, with utter glee) and the ready-for-sampling "Art is next".
Stacy Ferguson as Sally. Yeah. You know that she grew up to become "Fergie", the chick in Black Eyed Peas, who certainly did not need her help to suck. Then she went on to great solo success. Far from feigning any sort embarrassment, Fergie actually openly talks about her Peanuts past.
BLENDER: WHAT'S THE COOLEST THING YOU'VE EVER DONE?
FERGIE: Being the voice of Sally for a Peanuts cartoon. I actually have a thing that Charles Schulz wrote me. He drew Snoopy and it says, "To our best Sally ever -- Schulz." That's cool! Schulz called me the best Sally ever.
I disagree with Mr. Schulz (the original Sally is still the best to my ears) but let not the future retroactively taint my opinion of a young girl wetting her beak in the hectic world of voice-over acting. God help us all, but Fergie's Sally is very cute and very fun. My humps my humps. Damnit! 9
But wait! There's more! Two more, in fact. There's additional "sung by" credits for four young'uns, but I only care about Brad Kesten as Chuck and Jessie Lee Smith as Lucy. Smith's star turn beats anything I've heard outta Fergie, and is exactly how I would imagine Lucy to sing: just belting it out living-room Broadway style. 9.5. Kesten is saddled with the worst of the songs, "Pig Pen Hoedown" but does his best (I assume). 7.5. Not really his fault.
(I'm always curious to find out what the adult versions of these kid actors thought about the whole Peanuts experience. For Kesten's take on Flashbeagle check out the Youtube comments here. "Sucked balls"? That's harsh, dude.)
AND STILL I NEVER REALLY LET GO OF THE DREAM
--Saw them open for SY in Milwaukee a few years back. They were like a bunch of Peppermint Pattys up on stage. Too bad the crowd was like all Thibaults and Mad Punters.
Nothing to say.
--"Dated" does not automatically equal "shit."
These days I fall asleep to reruns of The Golden Girls on the Hallmark Channel (yeah, they have a channel). TGG is another thing from the 80s that I loved--that a lot of people loved--that I can still enjoy now in the 21st century. (Of all the things that entertained my young self in that decade, sitcoms have aged the worst. By far.) Who wouldn't dig on four old broads bitching? And man is it dated. References to Dan Quayle, Jessica Hahn, Miami Vice. And the clothes! All puffy and bright, even more glaring than the Miami sun they studiously avoided. In spite of such era-defining elements, the show does not live and die by the period in which it was produced. There is a definite timelessness in oversexed Blanche and sweet-as-curry-dumb-as-rocks Rose.
You could say the same about Peanuts. The latest installment of The Complete Peanuts has a strip that references Johnny Horizon. Who? Don't forget other panels where Schulz namedrops Annette Funicello, Rod McKuen and the 30th birthday of Bob Dylan. What's positive about putting in references that threaten to alienate future readers/viewers/listeners is that just maybe you inspire them to find out what the hell you're talking about. Like when I searched the Internet for Johnny Horizon. I had to find out who the hell he was and why Schulz would put him in his strip.
"...and don't think I feel sorry for you 'cause your daddy died. My father came back from the Korean War with his brains so scrambled, he thought he was Jesus! They put him in a nuthouse for five years, when he came out, he didn't think he was Jesus no more, he thought he was God. Which made me Jesus. This shit got pretty heavy!"
To my mind, one of the top ten moments in Peanuts animated history. This is not comparable to Frankin's deathless rap in It's Spring Training. That shit almost made my brain ooze out of my eyes. It was obviously forced into the special. Flashbeagle is the special. This is an 80s thing, you'll either like it or you won't. It's no barometer of your overall intelligence or coolness no matter what side of the fence you sit on.
No matter how many years I log on this globe, how much harsh Japanese noise I listen to, my young girls soul will always be in front of the TV, eating a McDonalds Value Meal and watching Purple Rain.
FAMILY GUY IS AS FUNNY AS DANE COOK. NOW HERE'S THREE MINUTES OF CONWAY TWITTY.
See, I just dated this whole post.
--If I read one more review talking about how the Peanuts mythology (whatever the hell that is) was ruined by the presence of adults....
Flashbeagle was the not the first--or last--Peanuts special to show adults. She's a Good Skate actually had adults talking. Which these reviewers would know if they did research and actually understood their subject. Schulz had adults in the strip, the infamous "Lucy in the golf tournament" storyline. He later expressed regret over his decision, but so it was, right there in black and white. Know of what you speak. There is a whole rich history. Acquaint yourself with it if you choose to speak on the subject with such ambition.
The Simpsons do yearly Treehouse of Horror episodes wherein they use Halloween as creative license to go apeshit with their characters. People turn into monsters, die, the world ends, it's madness. The fans understand that the producers use TOH as a playground for their wildest imaginations, so no one bitches when Homer gets turned into a jack-in-the-box. I would urge anyone watching Peanuts specials to divorce them from whatever you know of the comics. Much as they may be inspired by the strips, they are not canon. Schulz made this abundantly clear in his lifetime. Thus, he could do stuff that would be verboten in the strip (which was held sacrosanct): give Franklin and Marcie last names, show redhaired girls, show and/or voice adult characters. It's pretty simple.
--Imagine if Schulz had watched Sophie's Choice and cooked up a story where the Van Pelts are approached by a mysterious stranger who makes Lucy choose which of her brothers to keep and which to hand over?
--So is the background supposed to pan backwards as Snoopy pounds the pave?
Flashbeagle is now on DVD, as a "bonus feature" on the Snoopys Reunion release. The soundtrack is available here, along with proof that not everyone thought this show was a wretched abomination. Wow, maybe it even made them laugh.
Anyone who thinks this is the worst Peanuts ever put on TV has never seen It's the Pied Piper. That review is gonna be painful.