Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?
STORY: In May of 1966, Charles Schulz sent his dedicated readers into paroxysms of disbelief with the arrival of a storyline that no one saw coming: Linus and Lucy, moving out of the city. It seems Mr. Van Pelt found a new job. What is it? No one says. Hell, what was his old job?
Of course, Charlie Brown is sent into a spiral of stun. He also, until the moving vans pull away, seems to be the only of the kids who actually realizes their cadre of fledgling neurotics is about to be coming up two short at the next head count.
Linus' initial phone call to the Brown household was received by Sally. As ever, she is rendered starry-eyed by the mere voice of her sweetest baboo, and by the time she hands the phone over to her brother, is convinced that she and Linus have made a date for the movies. Linus somberly requests that Charlie Brown meet him outside. It's there that he drops the anvil directly on his best friends fat feet.
Faced with the reality that his "very best friend" will be out of his life in less than 24 hours, Charlie Brown manages to squeeze in one more game of baseball and pay one more trip to Lucy's psychiatrist booth--where she announces her replacement, a goateed and bespeckled Snoopy, who is charging two full quarters in exchange for his invaluable counsel.
Lucy has more pressing matters to attend to, see, such as giving Schroeder a double-sided picture of herself for his precious piano, should he ever long to gaze upon her smiling face once more. (Schroeder's devotion to his music is such, however, that he seems to not see the world in shapes. Leading to the following, perfect exchange: "Who's that?" "That's me!")
Then the time for the final farewell is at hand. A so-long party is held, wherein all the kids are disgusted to discover that a catering company owned and operated by a dog serves up dog food. Linus hands his beloved blanket over to Snoopy, and the Van Pelts (along with a large truck) ease on down the road.
Unsurprisingly, Sally does not handle being "stood up" well. Perhaps more remarkably, Schroeder suddenly seems out of sorts without his raven-haired #1 fan around to appreciate his prodigious tinkles. Charlie Brown is nonplussed. All Schroeder can say is, "I never got to say goodbye."
Charlie Brown did get to say goodbye, and his soul has yet to recover (not to mention his shoulders). Peppermint Patty picks up on his despondency and tries to recruit Marcie in a mission to cheer up Chuck. Marcie picks up on her mentor's crush on the crushed, and makes either the grave mistake or genius move of confronting her on it. Patty naturally denies it, but is bothered for the rest of the day by the idea that anyone anywhere at any time for any reason could be in love with wishy-washy ol' Chuck. (Shades of There's No Time For Love, Charlie Brown.) She is tormented by this irreconcilable notion, and calls Charlie Brown in the early AM. Still under the spell of Hypnos, Chuck is powerless as Patty manipulates the conversation and tells him she accepts his offer of a date. Except he didn't offer it. She did. (Shades of two minutes into this show.) Masterfully done, Patricia.
So now it's Peppermint Patty's turn to wait on the porch for her paramour in potentia, and her turn to feel the sting of rejection. Charlie Brown is barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to read the latest postcard from Linus, much less keep a date, but more to the point he thinks his conversation with Patty was actually a dream.
Her pride smarting, Patty takes yet again to Bell's Baby. And as before, it's a one-sided affair. Charlie Brown can only mutter and wonder as the conversation goes from admonishment to forgiveness. These conversations are easily the highlights of the special for me; Charlie Brown's passiveness and Peppermint Patty's aggression pair up like mismatched house shoes. Garish, but somehow comforting.
Head still spinning, Charlie Brown is then greeted with a most unusual sight: the Van Pelts vehicles pulling up in front of their former home. Seems Daddy Van Pelt didn't cotton to his new job, so they're back in the neighborhood. (Guessing that DVP didn't burn any bridges on his way out of the old job. Or that he possesses a skill-set that ensures his services are always in high demand.) It's all back to normal, then. Whew! Give Linus the blanket back, stupid beagle!
In retrospect, this special was overdue and a bit underdone. The Van Pelts relocation doesn't really affect Charlie Brown any significant way other than to make him sleep-deprived and susceptible to the wiles of crafty girls. Whereas before he was always fully awake for that. Linus and Lucy aren't gone long enough for us to miss them, in either the newspaper or on the DVD, so Is This Goodbye stands or falls on what is the backbone of Peanuts: Charlie Brown, with all his yearning sadness , utter befuddlement and giddy (if short-lived) excitement. And always, always his big fat watermelon head. I needed multiple viewings to be comfortable with a final grade of 7.5. Watch it expecting to be entertained, and you will be. Watch it anticipating some poignant emotional moment that touches your heart, and you will be let down.
MUSIC: Judy Munsen's soundtrack is here and there, but fortunately not everywhere. Takes an inevitable turn for the funky when Joe Cool Catering gets down to business. Less explicable was her decision to fill the last minute and a half of the program with a rewrite of "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel.
Why does the title theme sound like School Band 101, anyway? 5
ANIMATION: The general palette is reminiscent of a spotlight, in its brightness; yet not really, since it doesn't draw attention to anything. (The fateful call between Linus and Charlie Brown is so goddamn yellow it's like the cover of The B-52's smeared with mustard.)
Charlie Brown's sad, tired face is a Schulzian wonder--expressive to the utmost without being OTT. 7.5
VOICES: Brad Kesten rises to the occasion, earning an 8 for his profoundly doleful Charlie Brown. Jeremy Schoenberg and Angela Lee tackle the Van Pelt siblings, earning matching 7.5's to go with their muted portrayals.
"Muted" is never a word I should use to describe Sally, and surely enough Stacy Heather Tolkin outside-voices her way to an 8. Kevin Brandon has the unenviable task of bringing both Schroeder and Franklin to life. I'll give him a 7 out of pity (in fairness, he's one of the more memorable Schroeders, but that's like ranking the most memorable pieces of untoasted white bread.)
Michael Dockery' s Marcie is a straight-shooting 8, but it's Victoria Vargas as her sandals-and-shorts-or bust best friend who shines above all. She goes steadily from an 8 to 8.5. At first, membership in the "Retainer Club" seems to have sapped her confidence, but sure enough, the more lines she speaks, the stronger her voice becomes.
U-HAUL, I BAWL
--Three phone calls, two broken hearts. Each convo is a treat of verbal farce.
--Please note Linus' sled.
--Snoopy's "Hey!" marks the third time he has exclaimed such in these specials. (The first, and still best, involved a ring of bunnies.)
--The blanket exchange between Linus and Snoopy is foreshadowed by the pre-title sequence, where (against a backdrop of pure, fluctuating color) Snoopy tries to snatch the little boy's security away.
PACKED UP, PARTY DOWN
Adults! My presumptuous idea of how the Peanuts universe should be depicted has been horrifically violated!
--The absence of the littlest Van Pelt, Rerun, may strike the viewer as incongruous considering he had made his animated debut seven years ago. But since he didn't make his actual strip debut until 1972--six years after the "moving" storyline--not including him makes sense. What would they have done, shown him on the back of a bicycle tied to the top of the car?
--Again...what did you expect a catering company run by a dog was going to serve? Fresh sandwiches and a cheese spread? Cakes, mousses and pies? Polkas, schottisches and waltzes? Most kids don't even deserve Snausages.
--The ultimate scene between Lucy and Schroeder upon the former's return is underwhelming to me. She walks up to his piano as he pounds away, assumes the usual position, waits a bit, and announces, "Your sweetie is back!" She says it just loud enough to penetrate Schroeder's Beethoven bubble and frighten the poor boy.
I much prefer the sequence as depicted in the comic. The first three panels are as animated, but the final one is truly Lucy. Her speech bubble takes up the top half of the square, and the sheer force of it sends Schroeder tumbling backwards. I'm going to assume (since that's all I really can do) that either Angela Lee wasn't up to the vocal task, or Schulz and co. wanted to avoid shrill Lucy. But man, shrill Lucy can be amazing sometimes.
Hey, did someone say "party down"?