Charles Schulz drew up almost 18,000 total Peanuts strips. For producers seeking inspiration for the next television special, then, the dilemma is selecting which story to tell, not would they find a story to tell.
The main story of He's a Bully derives from a brief strip run first published in April 1995. Charles Schulz himself was working on the visual adaptation prior to his passing, with the tentative title It's Only Marbles, Charlie Brown. The project was put on the back burner for several years, as the fair-to-middling likes of It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown and Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown took up airtime. With the surprise artistic success of 2003's I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown, however, the Peanuts visual brand proved itself still vital. Or did it? Was the touching and hilarious showcase for the littlest Van Pelt merely an anomaly?
Interestingly enough, Rerun is a key player in this special as well. Making his way up to the attic one day, as mischievous children are wont to do while their parents are off doing other things, he locates a jar full of his grandfather's old marbles, as well as the championship trophy that the little bowler-donner earned for his proficiency. Instantly, he's smitten.
Virtually all the kids are attending Camp Indian Lake for the summer (bar Peppermint Patty, who requires supplemental schooling). Rerun spies a big kid playing marbles and sees a golden opportunity to learn the centuries-old game, hopefully becoming a master like his granddad. Lugging the same jar he found in the attic, Rerun approaches the baggy-eyed, disheveled, and perfectly-monikered Joe Agate. Who as it turns out is a bonafide hustler. Believing that he was only being shown the ropes, Rerun is inconsolable when Joe informs him he only plays "for keeps" and then casually walks away with all the little boy's marbles. Upon discovering the deceit, Charlie Brown vows to win back all the aggies, going so far as to lock himself in a boathouse with Professor Snoopy (paws and taws, baby) to practice until he achieves virtuoso status.
The big showdown ends with a Joe Agate victory, but wait! Snoopy has two spare marbles! Given a second chance to triumph, Charlie Brown bombs atomically. Joe is chagrined publicly, as all bullies should be. (This plot twist differs from the original story, where Charlie Brown beat Joe outright.)
A subplot, taken from a series of 1989 strips, concerns Peppermint Patty's overwhelming jealousy over the idea of Chuck and Marcie canoodling at camp. After several phone calls only serve to further inflame her resentment, Patty abandons education and crashes camp--only to discover that thanks to his training, Charlie Brown hasn't had much contact with Marcie (or any of the other kids) at all.
The relevance of marbles in the 21st century is an issue that should be discussed by people who concern themselves with such trivialities. You'd rather Charlie Brown best "Joe Nintendo" at Mortal Kombat? While this decidedly anachronistic Bully does not reach the heights of I Want a Dog, nor does it plumb the depths of that Pied Piper tripe that I swore I wouldn't mention on this site again but here we are! Definitely worth a watch, with plenty of laughs to be felt. 7
ANIMATION: Keeps in line with the last few shows. Clean where need be, messy where need be. The marble designs pop out at the viewer, but what else would one expect? Speed, power, puissance--that's why the San Diego Chargers powder-blue jerseys are so iconic. 7.5
MUSIC: David Benoit at the helm means that the jazz to be sussed is more 80s than any decade prior. Lacks thoughtfulness, but not obnoxiously so. 7.5
VOICES: Spencer Robert Scott is our Charlie Brown for this presentation, and I can't help but feel underwhelmed after multiple viewings. He sounds like a perpetual toe-dipper. I just wanna push dude into the water, like, acclimate to the temperature already! 7
Stephanie Patton and Benjamin Bryan are serviceable as the biggest Van Pelts (7.5 each). Peppermint Patty and Marcie are done much justice--that said, I'm giving Rory Thorst and Jessica Gordon matching 8's due to my personal sliding scale for their characters.
Then...there's Joe Agate. The antagonist. The prick kid who cons the other kids out of their precious marbles. He's voiced by 14-year-old Taylor Lautner, who a mere two years later was cast in the role abbed-out shapeshifter Jacob Black for the Twilight film series. I swear I do not hold the sins of the future against young Taylor. Teenage girls screaming the last of their gray matter out of their facial orifices has nothing to do with this show. Nor does wooden acting that no one cares about because the actor in question is shirtless. My score of 7 is fair.
KING SHIT OF BOTTLE WASHERS
--"Now we ante up." Yap that fool!
--Not gonna lie, the sporty-ass intro gave me the It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown chills. Oh wait--haven't reviewed that one here yet. Heads up: uh-oh.
--Why can't I be Snoopy, even if for only a third of the day?
--Eff off, English breakfast!
--Snoopy in coach mode never disappoints. Stern-faced and growling, pushing proteges to peaks previously unfathomed. Cutest grump ever.
--That's my answer to everything, too!
--How happy Rerun is to be learning the same game at which his grandfather excelled. Something old and new at the same time. Then he gets screwed. Joe Agate sucks.
"Man....What you have to get about the game of marbles is, you do it a disservice when you just think of it as nothing more than a silly little game. It's not just a game, and it's not just for kids. Marbles are spherical. The Earth is spherical. Much love to Aristotle. You play within a sphere. And unlike real life, skill is valued over luck. Marbles is kinda like the ideal world, the ideal existence. The Egyptians understood this. The Egyptians, man.
"I don't foresee a time when I'll ever stop playing marbles. I might get rid of some of these bags, though. Might just walk up to some stupid kid and be all, 'Hey kid, you want some gumballs?' Then tell 'em make sure they don't eat any till they get home 'cause I don't wanna hafta watch that."
--Fictional attics are always mysterious in their ramshackle beauty. The attic in my childhood home doubled as my big brother's bedroom, which under the domestic auspices of our mother mean it was kept as kempt as every other room in the house. Besides that time Reign In Blood scared the Hawaiian Punch outta me, the attic was actually pretty dull.
--"Welcome to the wonderful world of jealousy....For the price of admission, you get a splitting headache, a nearly irresistible urge to commit murder, and an inferiority complex."
--I was briefly tempted to call Joe Agate the wittiest of all Peanuts bullies, but really, he's just the punniest. (After losing to Charlie Brown, odds are good he don't wanna be a player no more.)
Nearly two years after He's a Bully, Charlie Brown aired, Bill Melendez died at the age of 91. A true animation legend whose work spanned 68 years, he was not just a producer, animator, and director, he was the "voice" of Snoopy. Furthermore, he always will be; archival audio of Melendez was used in 2011's Happiness Is a Warm Blanket and will also appear in next year's Peanuts feature film.