Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:  1/1/1986

STORY:  Great news, Charlie Brown--it's Christmas vacation!  Uh-oh, though, did you hear that shoe?  Yep, you have an assignment to work on during your well-earned break from the rigors of small-town elementary school life:  a book report on War and Peace.  To complicate matters even further, a neighborhood dance party looms.  How can Charlie Brown get through a 1440 page behemoth of 19th century literature and fit in dance lessons so's not to be his usual pumpkin-headed, shoebox-footed loser self?

The dance party is at Peppermint Patty's place, and is "boy-asks-girl" to boot, so while Sally waits for Linus and Lucy for Schroeder, Charlie Brown just barely gets away a written invitation to his beloved Little Red-Haired Girl.

Attempts to cut corners on the assignment fail (would you believe there isn't a condensed, comic-book version of War and Peace?) and while the other kids are in the P-Pat crib having a punch-infused blast, Chuckles is out back, book weighing him down like a sleep paralysis demon, snoozing as the clock strikes midnight.

He awakens to an angry host (how dare he not dance with her?), an angry sister (Linus danced with that Little Red Haired Girl!), and an affectionate cheek-kiss from Marcie.  Despite his despondency over Linus scoring a vertical shuffle with the object of his desires, I'd say Charlie Brown got the better end of the deal.  But does he see it that way?  Not a zig-zagging snowball's chance in Hell.  The Little Red Haired Girl is his unattainable fantasy, his salvation, his raison d'etre.  The relatively harsh realities represented by the Marcies of the world can't possibly compare or compete.   Then the sky turns the harshest shade of Charlie Brown when the poor kid gets a D- on his book report.

The premise of Happy New Year, Charlie Brown is so lightweight that if you placed it on a scale, it would dissolve into the platform.  But hey, that's Peanuts in the Eighties.  Like it, or go kick up the crawl space.  7

MUSIC:  Ed "Action 52" Bogas did the tuneskis, so this soundtrack is basically the aural equivalent of newspaper clip art.  Sways harmlessly...much like the kids at the dance.  So if nothing else, it's crazy relevant to the action on screen.  4.5

ANIMATION:  Very good, especially for the time period.  Basically indistinguishable from all the Garfield cartoons they showed in primetime, but still.  The dance studio is almost garishly bold and arty.  But points off for showing text of War and Peace.  No child should ever have a glimpse at such.  We need them to understand that reading is beneficial.  That's not the book you use to accomplish said goal.   7.5

VOICES:  Charlie Brown is a very wet, very sad sack in this special, and Chad Allen does a fine job conveying the banal horror (8).  Jeremy Miller's Linus gets a point lower simply for sounding a bit too much like Rerun.

7 is the number of the hour, it seems:  Melissa Guzzi as Lucy, Elizabeth Lyn Fraser as Sally and Aron Mendelbaum as Schroeder all roll it.

While Jason Mendelsohn's Marcie is a solid 8, it is my sad duty to report that Kristie Baker's Peppermint Patty is the least memorable of the lot.  6.5 may not seem too terrible an overall grade--and it actually isn't--but by the standards set by past Pattys, it's distressingly mediocre.  Baker also sounds super-young, which doesn't suit the character at all.


--Linus doesn't just refuse to ask Sally to the dance, he informs her, "I wouldn't invite you to a chicken race."  That's one of those brush-offs that would just drive me nuts.  Why specify a chicken race?  What's the motivation behind that choice?

--Lucy anticipates a date with "a certain piano player."  Ooh, Ronnie Milsap is in for a treat!  Especially since loss of sight enhances the other senses.  Like, you know, hearing.

--The fact that Charlie Brown shows up to the dance studio with War and Peace is not in and of itself all that funny.  It's just quintessentially CB.  The fact he's wheeling it along on a dolly is the kind of hilarious that births legends.

--"No book report has ever been finished by just reading the dust jacket."

Shut up, Linus, the cake is a lie!  I did exactly that in the 12th grade with The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.  Got an A-, too.

--All the dance partners are boy-girl.  With the exception of...

Mind you, they talk about Charlie Brown the entire time.  But perhaps he's just a mask the girls share to hide their true feelings.

--The book report premise dates from 1964-65, although in the strip Charlie Brown's class was assigned Gulliver's Travels (which is actually a good novel).  The change is likely down to the fact that War and Peace was Charles Schulz' favorite book.


--Lucy freaks out when Snoopy sniffs her root beer...

...and I don't get what the deal is.  Honey, do you not remember that Christmas when he licked you and nothing happened?  Few things are more devastating for a girl!

--Going by how he turns the pages, Charlie Brown is in fact reading War and Peace backwards.

--The Little Red-Haired Girl makes another appearance, nine years after It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown.  Again, she is given the name Heather.  The fact of her animation doesn't bother me.  The fact that it was done against the wishes of Charles Schulz does.  If he doesn't have the final goddamn say, what's the point?  Might as well hand it over to a room full of chain-smoking monkeys sitting at typewriters.

Happy New Year, Charlie Brown ran from 1986 to 1988 before getting shafted by network TV.  Its return in 2008 was a welcome surprise, as was the decision to follow it with the brilliant She's a Good Skate.  Ratings were solid, and it has aired every year since.

Have a great 2013, dear readers.

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