Monday, July 28, 2014

Snoopy, Come Home





U.S. THEATRICAL RELEASE DATE:  8/9/1972   
Director:  Bill Melendez

Buoyed by both the continuing success of Peanuts as a comic strip/toy factory as well as the solid box office of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the mighty trio of Schulz/Mendelson/Melendez decided to make another full-length feature.  One that would center around the wildly popular Snoopy.  As such, it would have a broader appeal and be easier to digest for the casual fan.  The result was one of the most tear-yanking, heart-wrenching, wail-pulling animated films ever made.  As Samuel Beckett once said:  "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."

STORY:  Immediately--SNOOPY.  A burst, a blast, 'tis be SNOOPYMANIA!  (Imagine Beatlemania, with better grooming and less screaming.) 

Where better to begin than the beach?  Snoopy's there, after all, and he's the star of this show.  He's frolicking in the water and sand with Peppermint Patty, and they're hitting it off like pork and beans.  So much so, they make plans to do it all again tomorrow.  But when Snoopy shows up with all necessary ingredients for a day of surfing, swimming and scarfing, he is shown a most indelicate exit by some off-screen authority.  Overnight, it seems, a NO DOGS ALLOWED sign was posted on the shore.  ("That overly-civilized canine is buddying up to the dyke-y kid, SHUT IT DOWN!")  Peppermint Patty just sits on her blanket in the meantime, waiting and waiting as the bologna sandwiches begin to turn.  Eventually she decides she has been stood up.  What a cad, burying a little lady's hopes so cavalierly! 

But that's not what he did at all, he wanted to have the best day ever with his new best friend ever, and the omnipresent MAN had to put the kibosh on.  No time to cry over uneaten sandwiches, however; there's books about bunnies to read!  Joining the Browns at the library starts out grand, but before long, Snoopy's uproarious laughter leads to yet another abrupt exit.  Not because he was being too disruptive but because--NO DOGS ALLOWED. 

Hell hath no fury like a pup denied his bunny books, and woe be the child who gets in his way while the flame still burns.  Or, the children.  Linus soon finds himself in a fierce tete-a-tete with the beagle over the boy's beloved blanket.  Then Lucy and Snoopy partake in a pugilistic showdown for the ages. 

While his dog is off being grumpy, Charlie Brown sits at home and wonders where he went so wrong as a pet owner.  Why is his dog so darned independent?  Why can't he just enjoy playing a simple game of fetch like a normal dog?  Why does everything have to come back around to World War I?  Why does Snoopy insist that Charlie Brown bring his supper to the doghouse like a personal waiter?  The irritation only increases when Charlie Brown slices his thumb on the can opener whilst preparing the evening meal.  He brandishes his bandaged digit before Snoopy in an attempt to make him feel guilty, but Snoopy acknowledges only his hunger pangs.  (I cut my thumb on a meat slicer once.  Six stitches.  Still have the scar.  Shuddup, Brown.)

Over the airy strains of "Do You Remember Me?" we are introduced--sort of--to a new face.  A young blonde girl is seen in a hospital bed, holding a toy that appears to be the spawn of the Jolly Green Giant and Raggedy Ann. Suddenly she makes her way over to a table and begins to write a letter.   Her forlorn expression strolls hand in hand with the song as she makes her way to the lobby.  Who is this girl? 

Her name is Lila, and her letter was for Snoopy.  Instantly he departs to see her, without reservation and without explanation to his owner.  A morose Charlie Brown spends hours wondering who this girl is, and what she means to his dog.  Leave it to Linus to find out the rest of the story:  Lila was Snoopy's original owner. 

After traveling untold miles by foot, and just narrowly escaping extended captivity at the hands of a sugar-powered sociopath named Clara, Snoopy (and Woodstock!) finally reach the hospital.  His presence has worked wonders for Lila; her discharge is imminent and she asks Snoopy to go home with her--for good.  He consents, but must first return to the neighborhood and give his old friends a proper goodbye. 

What constitutes a "proper goodbye"?  A farewell party that makes you want to mix all the strychnine into all the Hawaiian Punch.  To this day, people who saw Snoopy, Come Home as children attest to the traumatic effects of watching virtually every character bawl their li'l eyes out as they say so long, farewell, to their dear quadruped friend.  After Snoopy finishes bequeathing his possessions to those in attendance, it's speech time.  Linus and Schroeder each try their best, but Charlie Brown is so overcome with grief that he is unable to lift his head, much less speak. 

The parting gifts are handed out.  Every gift is a bone.  The very same type of bone, at that, over and over.  Is this a bye-bye bash for a dog, or a boring marriage?  Eh?!

Snoopy is so painfully torn.  While he has grown to care for the round-headed kid that feeds him, he also feels a sense of duty to Lila.  She credited him with her quick recovery, after all, from…whatever malady led to her hospitalization.  He had to make a choice, and made a choice he did. 

Facing a life without Snoopy, Charlie Brown will inevitably slice his wrists with a can opener (bittersweet irony!).  Kid's so mopey 'round town he makes Gregor Samsa seem like Hitoshi Matsumoto. 

Snoopy, on the other hand, is thrilled to be in his new home!  Well, not really.  Firstly, he's only just arrived outside the apartment complex when we see him next, and secondly, ambivalence is plastered all over his fuzzy face.  Lila comes out to greet him, and brings a very special someone he'll definitely be getting to know better--her cat.  Twist!  Wait, what's the sign on the side of the building there?  What does it say?  NO DOGS ALLOWED?  Double twist!  Later, babe!  Have fun with your pussy! 

The sheer joy that overwhelms the gang upon Snoopy's return is short-lived once he takes to the typewriter and demands all his stuff back.  That's right, Schroeder; hand over all the vinyl.  You think Snoopy doesn't take meticulous inventory?

Lacking the depth and breadth of its predecessor, Snoopy, Come Home is still a highly entertaining watch.  Yes, the scenes where the kids say farewell to Snoopy are sad as all hell.  Yes, there isn't really much of an emotional connection established between Snoopy and Lila (it's sweet when he enters the hospital room and snuggles up next to her, but that could just be because he's walked however many miles and is bone-tired).  But the laughs are still plentiful (and natural) and the songs are top-notch, if not exactly what I imagine when I think of "Peanuts music."  This gets a 10.

ANIMATION:  From the very start of the action, I feel the beach.  I'm soaking up the sun, smooshing the sand between my toes, rocking the EPMD hat.    But the fact remains, while the creative team took pains to make their second film different in plot structure and musical scope, the animation style is actually less ambitious this go-round.  There aren't multiple extended wordless sequences that keep the audience engaged with visual ingenuity, and as such, the opportunities for any innovation are nonexistent.  Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty at the carnival comes closest, and that section is full of color and motion, a deep-fried feast for starving orbs no doubt, but when have you known Peppermint Patty to ever keep her mouth shut for any appreciable amount of time?  And why are they the only two attendees at the carnival?  Even if you don't dig rides, there's always funnel cake!

I'm rather enamored still with Snoopy and Woodstock's walking scenes.  We see frames that are not just indications of the day's progression, but also of the internal experiences of the silent travelers, moving from place to place, adapting to the different terrains, taking in their surroundings while never losing sight of the goal. 

I give the animation for Snoopy, Come Home a 9.  While there is so much to admire, it's not an improvement on the prior movie's look and in some places the limitations of the era's technology become apparent.   Take that infamous farewell party; it is extremely tempting to poke plenty fun at the copious teardrops that fly from everyone's eyes, and believe me I would…if I weren't so sad Snoopy Snoopy why do you have to leeeeeaaave?

MUSIC:  Schulz and co. wanted a more "commercial" feel for the soundtrack.  Exit Vince Guaraldi and enter the Sherman Brothers, who as this link will attest, have penned a fuck-ton of scores for movie musicals.  Certainly the film is packed sick with tracks that are barely-nuanced yet swiftly-recalled.  If Clara's "Fundamental Friend Dependability" sounds awful redolent of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," well, guess who wrote the score to Mary Poppins?  Incidentally, "Fundamental Friend Dependability"?  Much better tune, and much less annoying to type out.

The two Snoopy and Woodstock "buddy tunes" are unusually awesome, in the way that eating a sandwich on your way to the deli would be awesome.   (The mouth harp even makes a reappearance.)  The chase-sequence music that plays over the second half of Snoopy and Lucy's bout is pretty great.  (Note, please, how the first several seconds their feet move in time with the beat.)

Lila's aforementioned solo turn, "Do You Remember?," is the sensation of tears that have not yet left their berth.  Much more affecting is "It Changes."  That song.  Wow.  I still half-expect Charlie Brown to hang himself by the end of it, every time I watch.  Basically the 1970s version of "When She Loved Me."

I would be disgustingly remiss to skip Thurl Ravenscroft.  His great, grinchy tone is heard each time Snoopy sees a NO DOGS ALLOWED sign.  That is some serious bass. 

Overall, the soundtrack gets a nice 9

VOICES:  The main performances are outstanding.  Chad Webber makes a super Charlie Brown.  Total 10.  He just sounds like the most abused punching bag in the entire gym.  (Todd Barbee handles the singing for "It Changes," however.)  Robin Kohn is a snug, smug 9 as Lucy.  Stephen Shea does big brother proud with a near-perfect Linus.  Hilary Momberger comes through as Sally yet again (10) and Chris DeFaria is so good (9.5) as Peppermint Patty I wish he had more to do. 

Johanna Baer's Lila gets an 8.  Well-done, but a little too light.  (Well, she is ill.)  I dunno, she just doesn't strike me as a child meant to own the world's most ineffable canine.  Linda Ercoli's performance as Clara is as wonderful as the actual character is unbearable.  Engaging, expressive…Ercoli.  10.

(Patty, 5, Pig Pen, Violet, Franklin, Roy and Shermy are all animated, but do not speak.  Schroeder speaks, but I can barely be bothered.)

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE IT

--Woodstock's on-screen debut!

--I bet he ate that hot dog right after using it to surf.

--

Nice call-back to Snoopy's debut.

--Lucy vs. Snoopy lasted longer than the Spanish-American War.

--Cool nurse Lila has.  Doesn't even question why there's a checkers game in progress when Lila's the only one in the room.

--I dig how portentous this shot proves to be.

--Land on a swanky hotel whilst playing Monopoly? Random-ass beep on the nose is the proper response.

--

Stereotypical, yes…but at least they stop crying for two seconds!  I wish Jose was around to gift Snoopy a sombrero.  There might've been a dance scene!  Everybody loves to see Snoopy dance.

--
I see the plate in front of Snoopy is empty.  Perhaps I will fill it with my heart.

--The melody of "Fundamental Friend Dependability" would make a mighty fine song for the musical I've been writing about the depraved life and crimes of Andrei Chikatilo. 

I've managed to evade police
I slaughtered the sergeant's niece
Drowned her in some grease
Chopped her piece by piece
I'm such an uncommon beast
I'm on a violent vicious evil lethal killing spree
Violent vicious evil lethal killing spree
Violent vicious evil lethal
Violent vicious evil lethal
Violent vicious evil lethal killing spree


--
Fourth wall, whaddup.  It's ya boy, Snoop. 

--Oh I love you, Snoopy!  I love you more than anything in this whole world!  I love you even more than Pig Pen loves filthiness!  More than the sound of sizzling bacon!

--Snoopy venting his fresh frustrations on the Van Pelt siblings provides the comedic highlight of Snoopy, Come Home.  He straight up ambushes Linus; there will be no quick circuit around the yard ending with a boy sent airborne.  Snoopy is aggrieved and he intends to inflict pain.  Naturally Linus responds in kind, including repeated twists of Snoopy's nose that would cause a lesser canine to cower and quiver.  Being an outstanding example of his species, however, Snoopy fights back.  He creases his face into a mask of maliciousness and steps on Linus's foot, lifting the young boy from a sitting position to a standing one, then proceeds to kick each shin.  The second blow lands so hard that a shoe flies off Linus's foot.  His cries of agony are simultaneously hilarious and unnerving.  I kinda felt bad for the fella.  At least until his other shoe goes flying.  Cheap shot, kid.

Walking on and fuming still, Snoopy sees Lucy working over a punching bag hanging from a tree.  She issues a wordless challenge and the fight is on.  Is she nuts or what?  Snoopy is a madman in dog form.  He'll throw a TV at you, crazy.  He picks up a single boxing glove, fits it over his schnozz and proceeds to rope him a dope. 


Looks like he's wearing the business end of a pacifier. 

BUT YOU CAN'T GO BACK THERE

--Sally:  "I hate reading.  I just want to be a good housewife."  Your Sister's a Budding Republican, Charlie Brown.

--Unsurprisingly, this scene was edited out of some telecasts. 

--The story of how Snoopy came into Charlie Brown's life has been told once in the strips and twice on the screen.  While Snoopy's Reunion has Charlie Brown making the decision to buy a puppy, the strip and Snoopy, Come Home feature a conversation where Charlie Brown explains to Linus that his parents decided to get him a dog after a bad experience with another child left him inconsolable. 

--Public transport won't let him board, libraries deny him the joy of reading, beaches won't permit him to frolic, but a hospital will surely have zero problems with Snoopy. 

--Which reminds me…Snoopy is kicked off a bus in this movie, yet in the last movie he not only was allowed to ride, he was permitted to play the mouth harp as well!  Their neighborhood turned quite fascist quite quickly.

--Clara mentions that Snoopy and Woodstock will make fine additions to her "collection" of pets.  However, Snoopy and Woodstock are the only pets we actually see.  There is an empty birdcage, as well as a portrait of a large orange cat.  In memoriam? 

--

No gathering where donuts are involved has any business being so gosh-golly sad.

--

Has your child lost the will to go on yet?  Have you?

--
That's a bit on the nose.


--

BAM!  Right in the sternum.

--Peppermint Patty is such a quality friend.  She sees Chuck all low and woeful, and she takes charge.  Take me to the carnival, Chuck!  It'll be fun.  Ferris wheels, bumper cars, unscrupulous games, funnel cake!  Also I'll be lecturing you on the social dangers of being a moody bastard.

--Snoopy, Come Home was destined to be sad.  The film's initials are also the first three letters of the word school, and when you're a kid, ain't a damn thing more depressing than school.  Not even a damn disloyal dog.



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hello 2015

Next year, I begin "Better Off In Your Head?," a new review series dedicated to comparing some of my favorite novels and their film adaptations.  This list is a nice beginning, I think, and all these reviews should be posted in 2015.

About a Boy
Carrie
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The entire Harry Potter series
The entire James Bond series 
Jaws
The Godfather
The Princess Bride
Trainspotting
The Choirboys

While Peanuts reviews will be completed this year, my list of "20 Greatest Snoopy Faces in the History of the Peanuts Comic Strip" will be up for your enjoyment in 2015.

There's always something to write about.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The NASA Space Station

AIRDATE:  11/1/1988

STORYPeanuts in space!

The competition to craft the finest space station is on at...whatever the name is of the school that the gang attends.  Linus's anxiety manifests itself overnight in a dream wherein the world gets an exclusive look at the newest NASA Space Station, commandeered by one Lucy Van Pelt.  With the help of scientist Linus, cook/photog Charlie Brown, activities administrator Pig-Pen, exercise guru Peppermint Patty, social observer Franklin, experiment queen Sally, and main operator Snoopy, she takes a Cronkite-esque newscaster--and ostensibly millions of TV viewers--on a tour of the spacecraft that they will all be calling home for 90 days.  During this time, they shall be conducting experiments to determine the deleterious effects of McDonalds on the common ferret.  Or not, their research purpose isn't terribly clear. 

All proceeds swimmingly, until a meteorite smashes into the station, damaging part of the Integrated Truss Structure as well as a solar panel.  Snoopy volunteers to perform repairs among the stars; naturally, his owner can't stand idly by and let his dog go out there by his lonesome.  Shenanigans ensue, including a near-death experience that is light years funnier than the two I've had.

With the curiosity of the earthbound satiated, the girls on board peer outside, wondering both at their home planet and about it.  Peppermint Patty makes a frankly remarkable comparison between the Earth and the resilience of Charlie Brown, holding the latter up as an exemplar of sorts for the former.   I would agree; of all the planets in our solar system, Earth is the Charlie Browniest.  (Mars is the Snoopiest--cool, imperious, and we're obsessed with it.)

Linus wakes up.  Snoopy wins the Space Station school competition somehow.  Mind you, he did build one that fit on a parade float.  Size matters.

Oh, outer space has been a mini-obsession since I was a lass.   Often indeed were the times I wanted to run away to the moon.  (I mean, if I could see it, it couldn't be that difficult to reach, correct?)  You're weightless in space?  Sounded stupendously ideal to a chunkster like me.  Being a fat-ass kid was the worst.  The NASA Space Station ain't the best, but it's still a fun way to pass the time.  9

ANIMATION:  The spacecrafts all look very realistic, not at all cartoon-y.  Likewise the rendition of planet Earth, all a-swirl with glorious blues, whites and browns.  Earth is like a taco bowl, heaping with guacamole salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, black olives, habaneros--and horse meat.  9

MUSIC:  Dave Brubeck?  Mad choice.  He's an artist, a pioneer.  We've got to have some music on the new frontier.  8

VOICES:  Each child actor does a nice job.  I give special mention to Erika Gayle, bestowing upon her a noble 9 for her gleefully bossy portrayal of Comm. Lucy.

THE PLACE

--NASA and Peanuts have history, which just might have contributed to making Space Station the most brightly-written and ably-paced of all the This Is America segments. 

--This demonstration of the station's shower may be revelatory for many, but dedicated fans of the comic strip recall that Pig-Pen actually looks pretty cute all cleaned up.

--

A woman's power over man is constant, no matter the realm!

--Ugh, fish lips!  And hey, I am aware of the myriad of gravitational tricks played by outer space, but what causes saliva to penetrate polycarbonate?

--

 ANT FARMS FOR SCIENCE

--Charles Schulz was fond of having Linus proclaim, "It's Sydney or the bush!"  Which is an Australian way of saying, go big (city life) or stay small (country life).  Which is kinda unfair to the country life, really. 

--Snoopy boxing a kangaroo in space would have been a great event to feature.  Well, they were up there for three months.

--I missed school the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  I was nine years old, and legitimately sick, resting on a He-Man sleeping bag as I watched the dreadful footage play over and over on the television station, all the talking heads asking questions that would not be answered satisfactorily for quite some time.  (Moral:  respect the weather.)  I grew annoyed after ten minutes or so, eventually making the grievous error of voicing my irritation.  (Guys, Calliope still had like another hour to go on Nickelodeon!)  My dad barked at me from the comfort of his E-Z throne, and I made sure that my head was turned away from him before the glare appeared on my face.  Else I would have made it to the moon that day for sure. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

U.S. THEATRICAL RELEASE:  12/4/1969
Director:  Bill Melendez

From seven newspapers to thousands of movie screens.  In just under twenty years, Peanuts had become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.   While the gang were little kids firmly entrenched in middle-class America, all ages and social classes found themselves drawn to the adventures of the pathetic zig-zag kid and his motley crew.  No one was too terribly surprised, then, when news broke that plans were in the works to bring Peanuts to the big screen.

STORY:  Re-introducing, for your empathy:  a jobber named Charlie Brown.  Plain as the Libyan flag.  Can't fly a kite, can't win at tic-tac-toe, can't snatch a victory on the baseball field, can't keep a toy boat from capsizing in a bathtub as he tries to scrub the accumulated grime of failure from his frame.  This young boy is taking his bumps surely and poorly; his fallen face and sloping posture are all the proof anyone needs if they are still unconvinced that major depression can affect children.  Perhaps it's time for Charlie Brown to speak with his parents about his feelings of hopelessness.

Oh.

A trip to the psychiatrists office proves useless plus, mainly due to the fact that said doctor is a peer with serious prefrontal cortex damage.  All Charlie Brown can do is take well-meant advice from his best friend and hope tomorrow proves to be a better day.

Charlie Brown's chin is still dragging along the pavement, and Linus is still offering measured encouragement the next morning when his officious-ass sister Lucy--buoyed by her reinforcements--runs up to them and laughingly suggests that the poor boy attempt to kick his bad luck and boost his spirits by volunteering for the class spelling bee to be held that day.  Surprisingly he does and shockingly he wins.  The next day, he competes against the rest of the school--and wins again!  After being carried home like a champion, Charlie Brown is content to luxuriate in his newfound fame and glory.  The ever-avaricious Miss Van Pelt is near-crazed with visions, however, going so far as to name herself his new agent, but Charlie hardly understands the fuss; he's already won the school spelling bee.  What more is there to accomplish?  He soon discovers the more:  his humble local victory has qualified him for the National Spelling Bee at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City.

All of Charlie Brown's old doubts and self-recriminations hurry on back to curl around every curve of his brain.  Him?  National Spelling Bee?  Not even the presence of a rapturous entire student body can ease the dread which hangs over him ("I feel like I'm being drafted," he moans, in typical super-melodramatic fashion).  Once in the big city, Chuck takes full advantage of the chaperone-free environment and begins poring over the approximately one hundred books he brought along, determined to learn the correct spelling of every word in the English language.

Back in the ol' neighborhood, Linus is struggling.  Before Charlie Brown boarded the bus, Linus handed over his beloved security blanket as a sort of good luck charm.  At the time, a noble gesture; by now, a catastrophic misstep.  Only a day or so parted from the comforting cloth, Linus is falling apart--a woozy, wobbling wreck at the best of times; unconscious at the worst of times.  Realizing the error of his ways, Linus approaches his parents and...I mean, he recruits Snoopy to be his bus-buddy and off they go to NYC.  'Cause the boy and blanket reunion is only a Greyhound away.

Or not.  Boy and beagle are overjoyed to see one another again, I mean Snoopy's tail is pounding through the carpet practically, but the blanket?  Oh, um, it seems that in all the excitement Charlie Brown has misplaced Linus's blanket.  Possibly somewhere in the Public Library.  Armed with this information, and desperate to don the cotton crown yet again, Linus takes Snoopy along on a late-night hunt.  While Linus peers through the windows, Snoopy visits the nearby ice rink at Rockefeller Center for some skating and fantasy hockey.  Snoopy loses some teeth; Linus finds nothing. 

Defeated, Linus and Snoopy return to the hotel.  It's the morning of the competition, and Charlie Brown is getting ready.  He's hardly had any sleep, but he still looks pretty sharp in his dress shirt, tie, and dress shoes, the last of which he takes great care to shine with Linus's blanket.

Once Linus is reunited with his true love, sky is the limit!  Off to Radio City!  Tis time to spell!

The competition is pretty fierce:  a girl who's either Asian or just ill; Schroeder's twin; Peppermint Patty with pigtails; Poindexter Franklin; and soulless ginger bastard Schroeder.  The set-up, as seen on the television that all the kids back home are gathered around, is pretty ingenious.  Each child is represented by only their head, which pops off the screen once they inevitably misspell a word.  Pop pop pop, until it's just Charlie Brown versus Schroeder's twin in a clash for the underages.  The drama is high; the tension is palpable.  This could go on for quite some time, especially if they're asked to spell words like "beagle."  Oh look, Charlie Brown's been asked to spell "beagle."

"Beagle.  B-E-A-G-E-L.  Beagle."

Once back home, Chuck refuses to step outside of his bedroom, except to visit the bathroom.  Presumably.  Hopefully.  It's up to steadfast pal Linus to stop by and recalibrate.  "But did you notice something, Charlie Brown?  The world didn't come to an end."

With that, the former champion gets dressed, steps outside, and sees for himself that life has indeed refused to stop just because he couldn't spell the breed of his own pet dog.  Spying his nemesis Lucy tossing a football up into the air, Charlie Brown suddenly believes in himself again.  Believes things are different now.  He won two local spelling bees, for the love of Scripps, what's stopping him now?

Life.  That's what.  And just like at the beginning of the movie, Charlie Brown is on his back, smarting from the acute pain of feeling real dumb. 

Conventional wisdom tells you "first=best," and in this case I just may agree.  I enjoy all four Peanuts films--and hope to enjoy the fifth--but the combination of humor and emotion that made the strip such a treasure is replicated strongest in A Boy Named Charlie Brown10

ANIMATIONStupendousSuperb.  A seven-course meal for the eyes.  Such variety in colors, such motion and emotion achieved within such limited dimensions.  With ABNCB, we are watching masters at work--and play.  Backgrounds are rendered in either watercolor, penstroke, fine lines--or sometimes all three simultaneously.  Whatever serves the scene.

The ice hockey sequence remains such a raucous treat--Rosa Bonheur was Bill Melendez's only competition when it came to bringing an animal to such vivid life.  The religious imagery during Schroeder's Fantasia-esque showcase captivates the senses, hell, even the pop art ending credits deserve a standing O.  There isn't a dull minute to be seen.  10

MUSIC:  For the first time, Peanuts features songs with vocals as well as those predictably glorious instrumentals composed by Vince Guaraldi and arranged by John Scott Trotter.

"Champion Charlie Brown" is the touchstone for the whole film.  It's the first thing we hear, in sprightly, wordless form, and it reappears throughout in beguiling mutations.  The flip side of the coin is the title track, written and sung by famed composer/poet Rod McKuen.  It's a wonderfully melancholic tune, despite featuring lyrics that have been proven untrue in a court of law:  "Charlie has a way/Of pickin' up the day/Just by walkin' slowly in the room." 

McKuen also penned the hysterically mean-spirited "Failure Face."  Asked for his inspiration, he simply stated, "Kids are mean."  A man after Charles Schulz's own heart, certainly.

The return of "Baseball Theme" finds Dr. Funk beasting on those keys.  First heard in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "Skating" reappears with a full orchestra, while "Blue Puck" is some uptempo jazz that would've displeased Tiger Williams greatly (all the better to pummel ya with).  Even "Linus and Lucy" pops up a few times, most memorably in a minor key treatment meant to mimic Linus's moroseness. 

The two standouts for me are Ingolf Dahl's performance of Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique" during Schroeder's aforementioned solo turn, and Trotter's "I Before E (Except After C)."  Stickier than Roman candy, this rhyming English lesson features Snoopy on the mouth harp and that's all I need to say

Well, actually I should say a bit more.  The soundtrack received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, losing out to the Beatles for Let It Be.  Leading up to the ceremony, Paul McCartney himself told ABNCB producer Lee Mendelson that "no way" would the Beatles beat out Peanuts.  Normally moral victories suck, but that's a rare example of one that just might surpass an actual recorded victory.  10

VOICES:  The seventh and final appearance of Peter Robbins as the original voice of Charlie Brown is arguably his finest.  His tendency toward dickishness as an adult is disappointing but nothing can change this fact:  no voice actor since has bested his portrayal of the world's most lovable fictional loser.  10

Pamelyn Ferdin (9) is a contender for the best Lucy ever, when you consider not only her work here but also in Play It Again, Charlie Brown, which aired on TV in 1971.  By turns coy and crude, she keeps Lucy from careening off the rails into irritating shrillness and makes her a foible pointer-outer par excellence.  Which, in the strips, is precisely her legacy.

Andy Pforsich and Erin Sullivan are limited as Schroeder and Sally, respectively, but earn high scores (8,9) for two scenes in which they individually shine:  poor Schroeder going over pitches on the ball field with an oblivious Charlie Brown, and an oblivious Sally explaining courting to poor Linus.  Sally Dryer (8) and Ann Altieri (9) make the most of their time as Lucy's toadies (they get to sing, though!).  Lynda Mendelson is in there too, as Frieda.  Don't blink.  Finally, we have Glenn Gilger making only his second appearance as Linus.  I don't think any child could ever improve on Chris Shea's marvelous performances, which is why this score of 8 should be considered in proper context.  Gilger makes Linus's blanket-anguish palpable, and that's no li'l job. 

I PUT A SPELL ON YOU

--The very first scene shows Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy lying in the grass, staring up into the lovely blue sky and sharing what they "see" in the cloud formations.  This sequence is a nice introduction (or reminder) of the quirks that make each of the three main child characters special, and was parodied many years later in "The Tell-Tale Head," one of the better episodes from the first season of The Simpsons

--The plot of ABNCB was taken from a brief run of strips printed in 1966. Charlie Brown woke up from his dream before the last ring of the school bell, however....


Hmm...coulda used a song to help him out.




--Charlie Brown's spelling bee words, in chronological order:  failure, insecure, stomach-ache, embarrassment, perceive, unconfident, fussbudget, disastrous, incompetent, beagle.  Pretty easy stuff, with the exception of "embarrassment," which I promise you a not-insignificant number of adults would misspell.


--

Kinda like how every episode of Hill Street Blues was "featuring Charles Haid."  And no one knew who the hell Charles Haid even was.

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I pledge allegiance...to the black circle...the grooves, the needle, and the stylus.

--Peppermint Patty doesn't get to say word one in the film, but I'll be damned if she doesn't have the best sign! 

--After Charlie Brown is beaned by a baseball, Linus suggests they wet a handkerchief to apply onto his head.  Lucy recommends a bed sheet.  So marvelously mean.  I mean if ever a kid deserved to receive four hits from a quarterstaff....

--Staying on the ballgame for a second...how in the world did Charlie Brown's squad ever record an out?  Their opponents just tire themselves to the point of exhaustion, thus hitting a few easy grounders and pop ups?  Or did they just figure, hey, we got our seven runs this inning, let's just bunt the remainder of the game. 

--Lucy's "slideshow of despair" points out many terrible things about Charlie Brown, but none more goosebump-inducing than his "tendency toward fatness."  The "most damaging" slides are unseen by the audience, of course.

--Snoopy the beagle, always into something.

--Following my favorite band from gig to gig over the course of a few summers, I became, begrudgingly, a connoisseur of gazing out of bus windows.  The acreage, the occasional life form (usually four-legged), I took it all in, seeking respite from the untenable situations a Greyhound bus ride typically puts its passengers in.  I know that many times I would sit there wishing I could just get off that rackety breadbox with wheels, let my mind guide my feet, and let my feet guide me.  Sure I'd miss a concert, but maybe I could change my life.  Who knows what I would see, who I would meet.  Is that what Charlie Brown was thinking?  Sure, he's a lot younger than I was when I took these trips, but he's rather an old soul.  Is he wondering, as I often did, what in this world is for him?  What he is for the world?

--A lack of blanket makes Linus a nauseous boy.  He does everything but vomit, and once he reaches the hotel where Charlie Brown and the rest of the contestants are holed up, it takes less than half a minute before he passes out right there in the hallway.  In fact, he experiences three episodes of syncope in less than three minutes, and each time, Snoopy runs off to fill up a glass with water from the hotel room sink.  Once he returns, he drinks the water down in one gulp while Linus remains laid out.  I thought it was the funniest part of the movie as a kid, I think it's the funniest part of the movie as an adult, and I so desperately want the opportunity to do this in real life just once.

--And now for something completely French...Serge Gainsbourg singing "A Boy Named Charlie Brown."

B-E-A-G-E-L

--Now that is a failure face.  

--What is the deal with the swayin' head action here?  Did people do that a lot back then whilst mid-song?

--Chuck just needs to layer up whenever he plays baseball.  Or just show up in shorts.  Surely those rockets being hit back to the mound wouldn't sear off his flesh.

--

Forget the pear.  Charlie Brown is shaped like every fruit in the bowl.

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Bath time for bozo.

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Me in twenty years.  Plus a bottle (or four) of Southern Comfort on the table.

--Did the filmmakers intentionally screw up codeine, leisure and financier?  Y'know, to keep viewers astute?

--

"Now, he is contented.  Unsuspecting.  Later, his kidneys shall be ours."

--Snoopy dreams of scenes from It's the Great Pumpkin while lying on his back, riding an invisible unicycle.  Fuck yeah, the 1960s. 

--The question of why "beagle" is such a prime-time word at the National Spelling Bee is a fair one.  (The actual winning word at the 1969 National Spelling Bee was "interlocutory."  2011's was "cymotrichous.")

--"Owning ten percent of Charlie Brown is like owning ten percent of nothing!"  Lucy's managing career, over before it truly started.  I still laugh at the clicking sound each time she turns the TV set on and off.



Charlie Brown's Summerfordian luck made for several classics of long form animation.  Of the four Peanuts features, though, only ABCNB and Snoopy, Come Home are currently available on (legal) DVD.  How dreadfully annoying.   Mind you, I think anything less than a Criterion Collection release of this movie is a joke, but I ain't holding my breath.


Friday, July 4, 2014

The Birth of the Constitution

AIRDATE:  10/28/1988

STORY:  The Peanuts gang are smack-dab in Philadelphia, PA, during the sweltering summer of 1787.  Big Things are happening at the local State House, where 55 wealthy delegates in powdered wigs have gathered to bury the Articles of Confederation and create in its place a new and improved Constitution.  All the better to be the United States of America with, my dear.  The choices before them are, ostensibly, monarchy, democracy, republic.  However, having just come out from under a monarchy, there are only two real options.  The founding fathers desired a system that prevented tyranny by not only the nation's leaders, but also by its populace.   Thus, America the Republic.

As points are haggled over, hems are hawed and haws are hemmed, the kids do their part via strenuous manual labor (which will be the least relateable part for any child watching this special). Linus stresses to the others how important this convention is for the future of the country, and even sneaks into the House to eavesdrop.  Fittingly, it is the licorice-headed boy who excitedly informs his friends--and us--that the new Constitution has been written and signed.  Popular sovereignty, hurrah!

Thrilling at the time, certainly.  Little did those snobbish pricks know that America would grow so exponentially, so like a damned, donut-eating Homer Simpson, that the lunatic fringe of the nation outnumbers several European countries in toto, thus assuring that they can (and do) wield influence in all branches of government, resulting in an America that is in perpetual disarray.  8

ANIMATIONA topographical marvel, is our America.  Everything and everyone is nicely-drawn, but did that many delegates really have pickle-noses?  8

MUSIC:  George Winston on the piano and harpsichord.  Nothing to complain about.  8.5

VOICES:  The only notable performances are Ami Foster's Lucy (7.5, "deli gates") and Jeremy Miller as Linus.  His score of 8 is earned almost solely on the strength of a single scene, his breathless announcement that 39 of the 55 delegates signed the document.  I imagine that Bill Melendez had the young fella take a few laps around the recording studio before laying down his lines.

Jason Riffle and Christina Lange voice the Browns.  Keri Houlihan and Jason Mendelson are a decent enough Marcie/P. Pat team.  Really, it's the Linus show here.  Snoopy isn't even given much room to steal scenes.

THE SUPREME LAW

--18th century...or today?

--Charlie Brown invents basketball in between making kites for Benjamin Franklin to fry himself with.  Lucy suggests another new game called "kickball," and wants Charlie Brown to play.  You can imagine where this goes.

THE AVERAGE AMERICAN'S COMPREHENSION OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT

--Snoopy slept on his nose overnight.

--

See that Illuminati symbol on his shirt?  Not the zig-zag; I mean that...snake?  Yeah, snake.  Clearly the logo of a nefarious underground cabal.  They recruited Chuck to put microchips in the kites.

The Birth of the Constitution is one of the lesser installments of the This Is America mini-series.  It's fine to watch once, but there's so much more to the story that the shortcomings of this format are glaringly obvious.