Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown


AIRDATE:  10/1/2011 (initially released straight-to-DVD 3/29/2011)

STORY:  The 45th Peanuts special is 45 minutes long.  It's also the first without the direct involvement of the legendary Schulz/Mendelson/Melendez trio.  Andrew Beall (Wall-E, Up) and Frank Molieri (The Simpsons Movie) share the directors chair, while Craig Schulz and Stephen Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) are credited as writers, along with Craig's father.  For inspiration they looked to the strips of the early sixties.

Meaning that linearity is blessedly shunned.

Grandma Van Pelt's imminent visit is the bass line around which the neighborhood plays.  The relative solace of a grand ol' ballgame; Lucy and the Sisyphean folly of loving a musician; and most persistently, Snoopy's desire to separate Linus from his soothing blue cloth before the old woman can.  Ultimately it is sister Lucy who spells doom with contest-winning aplomb, first turning Linus' security blanket into a kite, then freeing it.  His subsequent anguish and withdrawal is heavy duty stuff, less the typical temper tantrum of a tot and more a full-grown, full-blown panic attack. 

Eventually, boy and best friend are reunited, but not before he has received substantial guff for his alleged "addiction."  Fed up, Linus take to the majestic soapbox that is Snoopy's doghouse, and dares to ask:  "Are any of you secure?"  He does not hesitate to highlight the foibles of his friends:  Schroeder's obsession with Beethoven, Snoopy's preoccupation with suppertime, Lucy's unrequited longing for the kid obsessed with Beethoven, Sally's unrequited longing for the kid yelling at everybody from atop a friggin' doghouse.  Not since Ned Flanders snapped on the shoddy handiwork of charitable Springfieldians has there been such a glorious mass dressing-down. 

In the end, Grandma arrives and a detente is reached between she and Linus.  Between Snoopy and Linus, though?  Nah.

Lesson:  security is valuable.  Value your security.  9

MUSIC:  When seeking a composer to bring a sound that was familiar without being beholden to the past specials, the producers could not have done much finer than Mark Mothersbaugh. 

Saying goodbye to a once-lucrative gig with new wave pioneers Devo at the beginning of the 1990s, Mothersbaugh took his quirked-out musical sensibility into commercials, television programs, and eventually movies.  In particular, his work with director Wes Anderson on The Royal Tenenbaums was not only highly-acclaimed but majorly influenced by the music of the late Vince Guaraldi, with Mothersbaugh stating in interviews that he saw Anderson's film as a "live-action Peanuts."  It made sense, then, for the Warm Blanket team to reach out.  But what seemed to be a collaboration made in heaven almost didn't happen when Mothersbaugh's agent informed the producers that their client explicitly refused to work on any straight-to-DVD release.  This tune changed once Mark found out that the suitors in question were calling for a Peanuts straight-to-DVD release and not some dopey flick about a sentient popsicle.

The soundtrack is an indisputable 10 to my ears, a perfect example of how to pay tribute without stooping to toadyism.  Guaraldian tinkles and flourishes are plentiful and tasteful, and the Jaws-esque mini-theme for vulture Snoopy is mangoes. 

ANIMATION:  Not only does Warm Blanket boast the most brilliant animation to grace a Peanuts special in years, it boasts some of the most brilliant in a Peanuts special ever.  The classic look is a firm hug that combines the traditional 2D (hand-drawn, hand-painted) with some visual staging that, while not innovative, are nonetheless pretty novel in the grand history of the Peanuts shows.  The hue selections are engrossing, especially the reds and yellows.  The figures and faces are rendered in the Schulzian style that will never grow old 10

VOICES:  First off...Grandma is a trombone.  Happy?

Yet again the real star of the show is not the titular worrywart.  Linus is frequently sage, sporadically sarcastic, and always in search of security.  He's also quite cute, which not all the children who've voiced him manage to convey.  Austin Lux gets it right (9).

Chuck Brown is handled well (8) by Trenton Rogers, who also speaks for Schroeder.  Amanda Pace's Sally is naive and speaks in slippery syllables--in other words, she too nails her part (8).  Grace Rolek also earns an 8 for her alternately coy and cloying Lucy (as standard, it's what she does in the presence of her would-be darling rather than says that stands out). 

Violet, Patty and Shermy are voiced by, respectively, Blesst Bowden, Ciara Bravo, and Andy Pessoa.  Great to see the original characters represented, if underrepresented.  7 for each.

Shane Baumel does okay (6) as Pig Pen.  Bit wispy, perhaps.  As with the devil in a blue dress, it's what the walking mud puddle does that distinguishes him in this story.  I shan't spoil the surprise.

CUDDLE DOWN IN CUDDLETOWN

--

"Take the cereal.  Leave the milk."

--This special contains the second-best use of the term "future husband." Oh hai, Sally Brown's broken heart.

--The "air rescue service" are the ones who finally locate Linus' blanket, floating all lonely in "the ocean," and they send him a telegram.  A telegram.  Stop.  No, seriously, stop.  My stomach is cramping.

--Linus lashes out in the vicinity of Sally, bemoaning yet again how he will be but a shell of his former self sans blankie, when a kite impales itself on his upraised fist.  Just a second later, Charlie Brown crashes into a nearby tree.  I mean like the Justice Star into Coruscant.  This sequence is hilarious, especially because in real life a child would end up in traction.

--But my favorite moment in the entire show just might be the two-toned montage that occurs after Linus asks Charlie Brown if he is ever beset by doubt or anxiety (which in the main is a dumb question).  Among other iconic scenes, the very first Peanuts strip ever published is animated.  I was totally blindsided by this scene the first time I saw Warm Blanket and felt compelled to rewind it several times.  I almost can't believe they did it, and I'm so glad they did. 

A POX ON ALL THE BLANKETS IN THIS HOUSE

--

We like explosions that involve painted wood.

--Flying kites, kicking balls, wooing gingers, building cardhouses...forget it, kid.  Detonating fail-bombs, though?  Chuck's a five-star general at that shit.

--Linus goes voracious, veracious and vicious on a friend:  "Do you want to see me unhappy?  Do you want to see me insecure?  Do you want me to end up like Charlie Brown?"

--A telegram, y'all.  In case anyone is concerned that next year's Peanuts feature film will be a crass car-crash of a cash-in, I behoove you...breathe.  Find greater things to focus your outrage upon.  The one TV set shown in Warm Blanket has rabbit ears.  There will be no concessions to the iWorld from the Peanuts camp.  You will not see Lucy advertising her Twitter page on her psychiatrist's booth. 



--Speaking of which...you know, Lucy would have been a good girl if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life.


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