Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown

Yes, it's a day or so past Easter. And yes, the intent was to have a review up on the very blessed day itself. Yet...food got in the way. Oh, the turkey. The stuffing. The potatos, both sweet and mashed. By the time all I could stand of my mother's "old school" vittles was settling in my passive-aggressive stomach, the best I could manage to pound out was my Sunday standby, the "You Said It" roundup.

So it was tempting to scratch off said review; but I could not. Peanuts television specials are programs that I have been itching to cover since this site's inception. As if an ever sharper nudge to tender ribs was required, an emotional roller coaster the likes of which makes the Hydra in Allentown look like a glorified Slip-n-Slide just recently let me loose from its safety bar after about a days worth of reeling and twisting. To immerse oneself in a childs world (albeit a preternaturally wise one) was just what the doctor ordered, if I in fact had an observant doctor.

If this type of thing interests you, I will be doing these Peanuts posts either A) as the time of year fits (ie, Christmas, Thanksgiving) or B) as my time fits (ie the non-seasonal specials).

So let's get to the nit-grit.


STORY: Although Charlie Brown appears in the title, it is with this special the observant viewer begins to realize that the round-headed kid's preeminence is hardly a requisite for these specials to be made, much less to shine. Peppermint Patty is trying to teach Marcie the classic tradition of egg-coloring; Sally is fretting over remaining stylish; Lucy's avarice once again rears its crabby head; Snoopy and Woodstock are involved in some unfortunate domestic violence; and Linus sounds a familiar refrain with a tale of the "Easter Beagle", provider to children. Solid 9 out of 10.

MUSIC: How spoiled Charles Schulz, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez must have been, to be able to call upon such a gifted pianist as Vince Guaraldi. His work on A Charlie Brown Christmas and Great Pumpkin represents the apex of his Peanuts contributions (and will be covered more fully when those specials are considered), but to these ears at least, he never brought anything less than uncanny brilliance to the ebony and ivory. He reveled in creating classic themes for a show and then tweaking them with each subsequent appearance. Here, the introductory scene of an egg-bearing Marcie approaching the abode of "sir" features a pure "70s" rendition of "Peppermint Patty", one of his most uniquely structured pieces.

Low-key is the general soup of the day, soft organ and piano settling into the action with a sweet swing that brings to mind the greatest praise one can bestow upon a baseball umpire: to not mention them at all. The single exception to this is "Snoopy & Woodstock", a shockingly funky guitar loop with sparse percussion that is eventually joined by a tasteful but forceful guitar lick. This abrupt style of track was necessary, as it played over scenes between the two tacit animal buddies leading up to the decision to buy Woodstock his own birdhouse.

Overall, another 9. (David Guaraldi has released a CD of some of his fathers "cues", now for purchase at the official Vince Guaraldi website. This is hopefully the first of many, as no one--repeat, no one--wrote and performed better music for children's programs than "Dr. Funk.")

ANIMATION: Bright, but not tacky. No mean 1970s feat, you know. The children and their surroundings are drawn and colored perfectly, while the sole excursion into a fantastical realm (Snoopy dancing with the Bunny Wunnies) is executed with cute, exuberant detail. Give this an 8.

VOICES: In Rheta Grimsley's indispensable biography, Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz, it is revealed that the creator of the most patient loser in history had little forbearance when dealing with the children who voiced the animated versions of his characters. "Those stupid kids keep forgetting their lines," he is quoted as saying, thereby peeling back a layer of myth and reminding those that may have forgotten that the world of Peanuts is a world of bitterness, anxiety, and despair as much as it is of love, kindness, and humor.

Todd Barbee does double duty as Charlie Brown and Schroeder, a rather easy task in this special, as neither character gets much in the way of quality/quantity. 7.

Stephen Shea, brother of original Linus voice Chris Shea, takes over the role here. It's a relatively thankless role, no pun intended, as Chris' vocal portrayal of the neurotic grade-school philosopher is the finest job done by any child for any character in the animated history of Peanuts. Stephen does good by the family name, however, reading his lines with steady vox and even tone. 8.5

Melanie Kohn as Lucy. Any young girl who was/is able to give voice to the world's premier fussbudget without coming off as unbearably shrill should be given a free pass to all Camp Snoopys in America. Lucy's material invites--and not politely--over-the-top scene-chomping and spit-taking, but Melanie strikes a balance between the raging good and evil in this devil with a blue dress. 8

Lynn Mortensen is superbly naive as Sally; I don't think it's presumptuous to state that a requirement for voicing Sally is a tendency to recite less-than-seamlessly. 8.5 Marcie is voiced by a boy, James Aherns, who was at that tender age where his voice was soft enough in timber, yet rough enough in tone, to pass as a young girl. 8

The only 10 goes to Linda Ercoli as Peppermint Patty. Given the opportunity to steal the show, she nearly does, with a voice that screams "tomboy" right down to the softball cap atop the sweet pigtails. Why she was only used in 3 specials and one movie is a fair fuckin' mystery, if you ask me. Best "AUGH!" in a Peanuts special ever, and considering the number of times Charlie Brown missed the football, that is no small claim to fame.
Overall, It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown scores an average of 8.5, enough to call it a "great" Peanuts special, if not quite classic. Rest assured it handily wipes all downstairs floors with what passes for prime animation in this day and age (the technology advances, the actual animation degrades, how the hell does that work?). With categorical overviews out of the way and an actual rating determined, let's look at the nooks and crannies that make this such a rewatchable 25 minutes of Easter delight.


9. Marcie has always seemed like a bright young lady, bookish certainly, eager to learn without doubt. Hence, her quest to master the art of coloring one's Easter eggs, under the tutelage of the ever-sage Patricia of Reichardt. As is so common with people of above-average intelligence, Marcie has trouble grasping the concrete. Ask her to consider the egg as a metaphor for the cosmos, she could not only wrap her head around that classic symbolism, but write an A+ essay of 3 to 5 pages with footnotes and not a single grammatical or spelling error to mar the gleam. To actually color the egg is almost from another galaxy to a young girl with a mind on different plane from her peers. Hence, her subsequent frying, toasting, waffling and "souping" of the poor chicken droppings. I once burned water in an attempt to make soup. Kindred spirits!

8. Woodstock's bachelor pad of a birdhouse, tripped out with the finest in gauche art and furniture, with French pop approximations providing the soundtrack to the life of the pimpinest bird since Heckle (but not Jeckle).

7. As Marcie, Peppermint Patty and Chuck Biz all sit slumped and crestfallen...as Lucy waits with bated breath for the Easter Egg Hunt (she's placed all the eggs, guaranteeing her victory)...as Linus is yet again withstanding a severe tongue-lashing from the thwarted Sally...a silhoutted figure traipses into view. It is the titular hero, with quaint flutes to signal multi-colored bounty for all the neighborhood kids. Except Charlie Brown.

6. Marcie receives an egg with a rainbow design. Just sayin'.

5. Superflous moments involving Snoopy that give purists strokes while pleasing anyone else who likes, you know, smiling: the hat-ransacking with Sally, the Bach-accompanied dance with Patty and Marcie, his kaleidoscope fantasy-dance with his beloved Bunny Wunnies (is he breakdancing?) and his defying of all sense of direction on the store escalator.

4. As iffy as I am regarding the merits of Lucy and Schroeder's unrequited love story, it is good here for at least one classic exchange between the emotionally distant musician and his ardent pursuer when she tries to convince him to bestow her with many a gift, as Easter is all about "giving."
"All you think is gimme gimme gimme, get get get."
"That's called survival, baby!"
S'wonderful, S'Schulz. Al Capp was write on the money when he called the Peanuts kids "bastards."

3. "Now look, kid. These are not to be fried, nor are they to be roasted, toasted, or waffled!"

2. Sally uttering the most "kid" lines in the whole special when she tells Linus, "I really want to believe you because I like you and I really respect you. But I just don't know." The earnestness of her delivery is tinged with just a hint of tease, the hallmark of the little kid who knows more than you think, or really more than they even know what to do with yet. It's a fine line between "aww, that's so cute" and "holy christ, why weren't you left in an alley?" with that kind of youngster, though.

1. For her final attempt to dye the eggs, Marcie is seen cracking them against a pot full of simmering water, then depositing the contents into said pot. The animators could have done this once or twice, cut away, then come back to an oblivious Marcie waiting for the eggs to boil. Instead, they drew a sequence in which Marcie is seen cracking and emptying the entire dozen carton of eggs. Lovely detail, and worthy of an admiring gape in this attention deficit day'n'age. (I would be remiss, however, to not point out the sequences where Snoopy goes to buy his pal Woodstock a new birdhouse. He has to do this twice, and the animation is identical in both sequences. The eggs tired the artists out, maybe.)


SNOOPY LAYS EGG, October 6, 1999
Reviewer: "wizzz" (USA) - See all my reviews
Take Chevy Chase and his hijinx comedy multiplied by a factor of about a thousand, and you've got this spring junker that completely eschews anything like artistic intuition or style. The first 10 minutes is clogged with wheezing routines that appear to have no punch, and no punch lines. Hold your breath, watch and wait for the Easter spirit to rise up from the Easter egg patch but don't be surprised when you find you've turned "blue". "It's the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown" is a trail of animation gags. The only thing missing was a magic act- I wish they could make this movie disappear.

A top 10 Peanuts special, then? Hmm. Can't say with absolute certainty of personal opinion until I complete ranking all of them, but my gut says yes. Which may just be the stuffing churning in there.

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