Monday, February 16, 2009

This Is America, Charlie Brown: The Smithsonian and the Presidency

AIRDATE: 4/19/89

STORY: Wherein the Peanuts gang--now with 100% more Franklin!--visit some Smithsonian museums and learn about stuff. And by "stuff" I mean fossils, planes, space, culture, and presidents. And by "presidents" I mean--Lincoln and the two Roosevelts. 8

ANIMATION: Neatly rendered, but dated in the way that Rakim's first two albums are dated; meaning that while the look is resolutely of its era, it more than holds up. 8.5

MUSIC: Imagine "Linus and Lucy" reprised to sound like the musical cues between scenes in an episode of Who's the Boss? 7.5

VOICES: The same voice actors were used for the entire miniseries, but the performances of each individual child vary from show to show. While Eric Chase was underwhelming in The Great Inventors, he shines here, giving Charlie Brown the dulled edge of cute he needs to succeed as a loser--9. Brandon Stewart remains serviceable as Linus (8), while Erica Gayle delivers a thin-sounding Lucy (7). Brittany Thornton's Sally dips to a 7; she sounds a bit too Lucy-ish. Marie Cole does Marcie well--a smart kid who sounds perpetually dumbfounded.
8. Jason Mendelson earns a 9 as P. Pat, which is no shocker. Who did make my blotchy jaw-house do the Moe Syslak was Hakeem Abdul Sanad as Franklin. This is the only Franklin who sounds like the sass-gobbed black kid who would have moved in with Fred Sanford after Lamont left and taught the crotchedy old bastard a li'l somethin' 'bout love, life, and not bein' a jive turkey if Redd Foxx had wanted to milk the great glowing cow any further.

"Charlie Brown, you so ugly we can stick your head in a blender with a banana and make us some gorilla shakes!"

Franklin didn't say that, of course, but just the thought of it makes me laugh. 9


--As part of a fifth grade field trip, my class went to the Natural History Museum. I remember virtually nothing of the journey, which is amazing considering I'm famed among my circle of friends for a fantastic memory. I had a real thing for rocks back then; I used to walk up and down my father's garden during the infertile winter months, digging for them igneous and sedimentary shits. I loved to read up on the rocks, gaze at full-color pictures, and wonder when I would ever find specimens that looked so immaculate. Not quite realizing that since I was unearthing them from a fucking field of dirt, my dream was nigh on impossible. Ah well. I still heart you, rhyolite.


"Behold, I am domino canis."


Bowler hats are so crazed they can make even a quotidian citizen like Charlie Brown seem cooler than a polar bear listenin' to Outkast in a walk-in freezer.

--Sally sharing what she knows about dinosaurs: "I did a report on the Bronchitis. He coughed a lot." Makes me laugh like a friggin' half-brain.

--Why Teddy Roosevelt and not George Washington? Why not. Schulz adored funny-sounding names. (Hence Schroeder loving "Beethoven", not "Bach".) Well, T.R. had sons named Kermit and Archibald. No funnier names exist in the history of presidential progeny. At least until Sarah Palin takes the highest office in 2012.

--You just kinda threw up in your mouth a little, didn't you?

--I don't give much stock to the adult voices in this series, but Frank Welker is fantastic throughout. From Shaggy to Santa's Little Helper, the man is a national treasure. His Lincoln sounds quite Obama, being pre-Obama and all. Isn't that how we're dividing the world these days? Pre- and post-Obama?

--Among the artifacts gawked at by our heroes are the Lunar and Command Modules of Apollo 10, which were nicknamed "Snoopy" and "Charlie Brown" (incidentally, neither are actually in the Air and Space Museum). They also gaze upon a Peanuts strip in the American History Museum (incidentally, a Peanuts panel does appear in said museum). They are stunned at these "coincidences", but little else. All I know is, I go to a museum and I see a plane named after me, or drawings of my daily routine up on the walls, I'm freaking out and holding some fossils hostage till I get some goddamn answers, goddamnit.



"Did you say 'Wright Brothers' or 'White Brothers'? This place is racist!"

--The show begins rather inauspiciously.

"The Washington Monument is really high!"

"The White House really is white!"

"Gee, the Lincoln Memorial is beautiful!"

Amazingly, Charlie Brown says the least dopey statement of the whole opening sequence. I was prepared to hear, "Golly, the Lincoln Memorial really is dedicated to that guy on the penny!"

--Later, though, while paired up with Linus as paperboys delivering a B & W to Mr. Lincoln, he asks: "Is it hard, being President, sir?" Mendelson and Melendez--they weren't terrible writers.

--They gave Lincoln a nose like the old lady in that classic optical illusion.

--To really appreciate this show, you have to try and view it through a child's mind. If you can, how much you can. You have to temporarily clear your mind of all acquired-as-an-adult unsavory knowledge about the nation's leaders.

Lincoln's incessant anxieties and chronic fear of going insane? Quite Schulzian, but have no place here. Cartoon Lincoln is dedicated to ending the Civil War and giving a memorable speech in Gettysburg. (The most applause-worthy moment of the entire half hour is that Frank Welker recites the Gettysburg Address in its entirety. A close second is the Great Depression footage shown throughout the FDR segment. It really lets children understand the destitution of those times.)

--Teddy Roosevelt was a noted hunter, soldier, environmentalist, and bookworm who cultivated an image of the ideal man that many demand their CIC exude. He was also a classist at best, believing that those who spoke English as a mama tongue (and better, were born with a pale complexion) were destined to occupy the top spot in society's hierarchy, while generally speaking, non-whites were inferior. The subtle racism of great figures is fascinating to uncover with later study, but there's no reason to throw it all at kids in one heaping helping of ambivalent character study. The best you could hope for is this early exposure to the people that shaped the country will encourage them to dig deeper.

--Hell, even seeing a drawing of The Spirit of St. Louis made me think--"Bruno Hauptmann sure got fucked, didn't he?"

Ah well. Kids know nothing of ingrained hatred, war, or scapegoating borne of media frenzy. They just know they need a laugh at the end.

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