Monday, October 6, 2014

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)

U.S. Theatrical Release Date:  5/30/1980
Director:  Bill Melendez

The fourth Peanuts big-screen feature continued in the adventurous vein of Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, but at a much slower pace.  Switching the focus from water to fire, from the American outdoors to the French indoors, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is remembered by numerous fans as the least-impressive of the Charlie Brown movies.  (Although champions for the film certainly exist.)

Paramount Pictures seemingly wanted Race For Your Life to fail--how else to explain the lack of promotion?  Paramount Pictures seemingly wanted Bon Voyage to succeed--how else to explain scheduling the film's opening for Memorial Day weekend?  Well, the poor movie got stomped at the box office, and discovering an explanation for that is far from problematic--this was the flick it opened against.

Protracted groan here.  Paramount Pictures, you pricks.

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The opening moments announce loud and clear that the 76 minutes to come will not be a humorous pastiche culled from the thousands of Peanuts comic strips at the disposal of the producers.  A young blond girl sits in the candlelit room of a rain-beaten chateau, staring at an Army satchel stenciled with the name S. BROWN.  After a time, she begins to write a letter.

Sunnier skies and familiar faces follow.  The buildin' of learnin' attended faithfully by Charlie Brown and Linus is taking part in a good ol' foreign exchange program with France.  Sending off a neuroses-ridden child with a head like a bowling ball as well as a young boy who has an intense psychological dependence on a piece of blue cloth may seem like a great prank on our Gallic friends, but so it goes.  Across town, at the other elementary school, Peppermint Patty and Marcie have also been selected to visit England's favorite historical enemy.  Snoopy and Woodstock were most certainly not invited, yet make the trip anyway, occupying first class while the stupid wiener humans fly coach.

During said flight, Charlie Brown shares a letter he recently received from, coincidentally enough, France.  Someone named Violette Honfleur saw fit to write Chuck, and while normally an unsolicited missive from a lady would be cause for celebration, the contents of the letter are entirely in Violette's native language.  Fortunately for Charlie Brown, Marcie happens to speak and read French fluently.  Per an on-spot translation, Charlie Brown has been invited to stay with Violette and her uncle at the Chateau du Mal Voison--"The House of the Bad Neighbor."  Convenient, if not a bit ominous as well! 

A layover in London gives Snoopy a surplus of minutes to engage in shenanigans.  Truly, at this point, the movie can be said to begin.

Once in France, they procure a top-notch vehicle (a blue Citroen 2CV, the "deux chevaux") for travel.  I'd ask, "Where are the adult representatives from whichever school is participating in this exchange program?" but then that would suggest I don't know Peanuts very well.  And nothing could be further from the truth.

Patty and Marcie are staying with a cute and charming young boy named Pierre, who waits until after the Citroen has driven off to inform the girls that the chateau for which the fellas are headed is owned by a notoriously people-phobic summa-bish known locally as "The Baron."  Uh-oh!

It's a dark and gloomy night when the boys and the animals pull up to the imposing structure that they will be calling "home" for the length of their stay.  Or will they?  The chateau seems deserted, so the children decide to sleep in a nearby stable, as Snoopy and Woodstock keep guard.  Not long after the first snores begin to fill the air, however, both beagle and bird head off to the nearby pub.  Loyalty!

As daylight forces the boys awake, they discover that someone draped blankets over their bodies at some point during the evening.  Furthermore, possibly that very same someone set up a table with not only plates and cups, but also fresh croissants and a teapot.   Hearty!

Discombobulation aside, there is school to attend.  The love-hate Peppermint Patty/Charlie Brown dynamic is always a twice-dipped treat, and here we see some great moments from the strip brought to motional life.  "Don't hassle me with your sighs, Chuck!"

That evening, Charlie Brown and Linus return to the chateau and find warm dinner and warmer bedding outside.  Again, no one is home.  Determined to not miss the residents return to the homestead, Chuck and Linus agree to take turns at guard duty.  Charlie Brown goes up first, and does a predictably poop-pie job at his post, dozing off and failing to perk up at the sight of lights shining from inside the chateau.  The Baron and young Violette can be heard speaking at the front door, bickering a bit about the young charges away in the stable.  Linus wakes up not long after the Baron's departure; seeing his friend stacking clouds, he steels himself to enter the chateau and solve the mystery once and for all.

Using only candlelight, Linus finds his way to the attic--and Violette Honfleur.  She explains that her invitation, while a gesture she now regrets, was borne only of genuine goodwill.  Her grandmother once told the young girl about a U.S. infantryman with whom she shared a brief romance during the Second World War, while he was stationed in France.  The man, named Silas Brown, stayed at that very chateau.  Although very happy together, their relationship did not survive the long distance forced between them once the young soldier received his marching papers.  Violette moved on and started a family of her own, but she never forgot a man named Silas Brown.  As for that man, he survived the war and returned to his home country to began his own brood.  Eventually, he would have a grandson named Charlie Brown. 

As Violette is riveting Linus with her tale, Snoopy and Woodstock are back at the pub, overhearing The Baron talking about the li'l bastards his niece has invited to the chateau.  His thinly-veiled threats--delivered in quite comprehensible English, mind you--do not seem to penetrate the (root) beer-drenched brains of either creature, as they continue to go about their pleasurable business, nonplussed as all hell.

Which proves too bad for Violette and Linus.  When The Baron crashes his way back into the chateau, the poor little ones are so spooked that they knock a blazing candle over, starting a fire in the attic.  Linus opens up the nearest window and begins screaming for sleepy Brown to be of some use for once in his gosh-golly blockheaded life 'cause we totally need water do not let the motherfucker burn!  Before long, Snoopy and Woodstock, as well as Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Pierre, are at the chateau.  A fire truck has been called, but Snoopy is never content to just wait around for professionals to arrive.  Retrieving an old-school hose in a nearby shed, he somehow squeezes a bit of comic relief out of a life-death situation.

Violette and Linus are able to jump to safety--but not before one of the most pathetic line readings ever to appear in a children's movie is uttered--and the firefighters roll up and save the night.

Back at Pierre's, Violette shares her grandma's story with Charlie Brown.  She explains that inspiration to write a letter struck when a friend of the Honfleur family visited America and just happened to get a haircut from Charlie Brown's dad.  Upon this friend's return to France, he told Violette's grandmother of the chance meeting.  She, in turn, told Violette the story of Silas Brown.

Touching, if not precisely scintillating, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown has for the last 34 years been "the last" Peanuts movie.  That will no longer be the case come the fall of 2015, but it will always be the last Peanuts flick to involve the almighty creative triumvirate of Schulz/Mendelson/Melendez.  My trepidation is inconsiderable, though; the source material is unimpeachable, after all.  All the producers have to do is take a good story--then take it further.  9

MUSIC:  Peppy from the very beginning, which one must expect when one is asked to have expectations of the Bogas/Munsen musical team.  Blasts of musty yellow, cracks of cookie crumbs...the soundtrack always fits tidily with the action onscreen.  A feat that, while basic enough, sometimes slipped through the composers' fingers.  Not here, though.  9

ANIMATIONBon Voyage is arguably the most artfully drawn and colored Peanuts movie; people and places spring to magnificent vitality in endlessly impressive scene after endlessly impressive scene.  The care given both the geography and the architecture exudes a warmth that makes a strange land suddenly feel like home.  While turbulent skies are ever present, the animation could hardly be described as drab or dreary10

VOICES:  Arrin Skelley and Daniel Anderson are quite adorable little representatives of their homeland.  I'd like to give them matching 8's, but Anderson's Linus loses a full point for his soul-crushing, Troll 2-worthy reading of the line "Use my blanket to catch us!" during the film's climatic sequence.

Peppery, minty Patty and marvelous Marcie haggle-her prove a more evenly-matched duo.  Patricia Patts nails the necessary blend of hoarseness and obliviousness required of all effective Patty's to earn a 9, while Casey Carlson scores likewise as the affably understated girl who dispenses sarcasm like a humidifier dispenses water vapor.

The French kids are pretty great:  Pascale De Barolet provides the pronunciations of Pierre to the tune of a 9, while Violette is vivant thanks to the vocal talents of Roseline Rubens.  I'll give her a nice, steady 8--however, Snoopy would regard me as too harsh a judge.

Sally and Lucy are left in the collective dust kicked up by their respective brothers, and while I normally wouldn't bother to give number grades to barely-there performances, Lucy's single zinger at the airport not only gives the movie title reason to use parentheses, Michelle Muller delivers it with every scintilla of malice I demand from the character of Lucy Van Pelt at her most hateful8

Very Special Mention must go to Scott Beach, who is all over the place as the adult on the mic--the barely-comprehensible English waiter, the barely-comprehensible English cabbie, the haughty English line judge and the grumpy French "Baron" himself.  Wowee zowee, dude.   Take this 10.

A MOVEABLE FEAST

--In reality, "the dog" is not considered an acceptable answer to the question "Who will be driving the car?"


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Surely there existed no actual need for the signs.  Just watch the movement of the steps, right?

--Mel Blanc appears in this movie (uncredited) via archival sound effects.  Peanuts and Looney Tunes, together at last.

--The in-flight film, The Laughing Bunnies, is basically the merry dancing bunnies from It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown without some boisterous beagle bum-rushing their circle.  Snoopy is sent into seat-pounding hysterics watching the slapstick adventures of the floppy-eared ne'er-do-well's...which was also pretty much my reaction when I saw this scene for the first time.

--This film's comedic highlight comes courtesy of the irrepressible pup himself.  Quell surprise!  His nighttime jaunt to the pub is an all-timer in the annals.  Decked out in (soft) military headgear, Snoop no longer has to race over to some puzzled kids patio and pretend--he actually is at a French pub, quaffing root beers with no sense of propriety, and taking over the dance floor moves that manage to be both graceful and goofy.

Inevitably, Snoopy lets the tunes wafting from the jukebox tear at his little heart, but soon enough the likes of "Rum and Coca-Cola" repair the damaged ventricles.  Thing is, though, he programmed the selections!  Therefore, Snoopy chose the most emotionally manipulative sequence of songs possible!  Whadda masochist!

--

One day I'll get to fly first class.  One day I'll get to rock dark glasses while waiting for the bird to take flight.  Instead of sitting coach, trying to stave off a panic attack.

--Peppermint Patty just can't see that Pierre and the Francophile Marcie are kinda crushing on each other, to the point where they even hold hands.  Patty meanwhile can only lament over how Pierre's alleged attraction to her will never, can never, be requited--"Too bad I can't give the kid a tumble."  Bonne douleur!

--Not to mention, she's ungrateful at yet another free meal!



I bet she wouldn't have that screwface rocking if they'd flown to Germany.  Breads, ham, salami, cheeses, marmalade...

--Every beverage should have a corresponding container that announces to the world precisely what is being imbibed.

--Mouth harp!

--Snoopy is a member of the Wimbledon Tennis Club.  The same hallowed grounds where Laver, Navratilova, Sampras and Williams have wowed crowds on the quest to hold the silver aloft.  How does he pay the annual membership fee?  Send twelve cans of dog food to the club every year?  Has he ever been to England before this?  If so...when?  How?  Mister Snoopy!

--Snoopy playing tennis on any court, locally-famed or globally-acclaimed, is a joy to behold.  His passion for the game far exceeds his talent for the game (I suppose you could say Snoopy is the Tony Romo of tennis?)  All it takes is a couple close calls and Snoopy becomes an implacable dervish--no one is safe, especially not the line judge.

--

Buddies help each other out.  That's what makes them buddies.

HIGHWAY TO THE DISCOMFORT ZONE

--What were the habitation plans for Charlie Brown and Linus if Chuck hadn't received Violette's letter?  Wasn't it already worked out in advance by their principal, in conjunction with his overseas counterpart and the half-full bottle of red wine that served as President of the National Assembly of France?  Charlie Brown didn't even know the letter was an invitation until they were already on the flight!

--I know, little birdie.  If I had a buck for every piece of litter emblazoned with golden arches I caught sight of during my walks 'round town, I'd be walking 'round a much better town.

--English Mixed Grill?  You mean pudding, treacle, banger bits, tomato, egg and "surrender bacon"*?

--Cab rides in England went distinctly different for me.  Not once in this film did I hear any of the kids exclaim, "I can't believe I'm about to die in this little-ass cab driven by this asylum escapee, and I didn't even get the chance to stand in front of Big Ben and say, 'I'm the real Big Benn, 'cause I got an extra 'n', bitch.'"

--Sending Charlie Brown to grab a loaf of bread, you might as well send a delirious cassowary into Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick up some dinnerware.

--Snoopy's "English accent"--as demonstrated when conversing with an asylum escapee--needs some bed rest and ginger ale.

--The brief voice-over detailing Linus's thought process as he approaches the chateau was highly unnecessary and a momentary mood-ruiner that I wouldn't expect from the Peanuts creative crew.  The pensive look on his little licorice-topped face was enough, y'know?

--When in Rome...or Paris.

--Violette informs the others that The Baron was so shaken by the harrowing experience at the chateau he has vowed to be friendlier and treat people better.  Frankly, having part of my residence set ablaze by meddling kids would only strengthen my antisocial temperament.

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More fun than funny, I would rank Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown fourth of all Peanuts films.  While there's much to enjoy for a devoted fan, there's also nothing terribly notable for the pop culture crowd, and I wouldn't be surprised if for some idiots, Francophobia plays a role in their distaste for the movie. 

Will the upcoming Peanuts surpass it?  Anything is possible.  I just hope the film is enjoyable and does decent box office.  A quick look at IMDB shows that if nothing else, it has a fighting chance:

Peanuts--U.S. Release 11/6/2015
Star Wars Ep. VII--U.S. Release 12/18/2015


*So-called because it's been sliced from the part of the pig that gave up first.

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