Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?

AIRDATE:  2/21/83

STORY:  In May of 1966, Charles Schulz sent his dedicated readers into paroxysms of disbelief with the arrival of a storyline that no one saw coming:  Linus and Lucy, moving out of the city.  It seems Mr. Van Pelt found a new job.  What is it?  No one says.  Hell, what was his old job?

Of course, Charlie Brown is sent into a spiral of stun.  He also, until the moving vans pull away, seems to be the only of the kids who actually realizes their cadre of fledgling neurotics is about to be coming up two short at the next head count.

Linus' initial phone call to the Brown household was received by Sally.  As ever, she is rendered starry-eyed by the mere voice of her sweetest baboo, and by the time she hands the phone over to her brother, is convinced that she and Linus have made a date for the movies.  Linus somberly  requests that Charlie Brown meet him outside.  It's there that he drops the anvil directly on his best friends fat feet.

Faced with the reality that his "very best friend" will be out of his life in less than 24 hours, Charlie Brown manages to squeeze in one more game of baseball and pay one more trip to Lucy's psychiatrist booth--where she announces her replacement, a goateed and bespeckled Snoopy, who is charging two full quarters in exchange for his invaluable counsel.

Lucy has more pressing matters to attend to, see, such as giving Schroeder a double-sided picture of herself for his precious piano, should he ever long to gaze upon her smiling face once more.  (Schroeder's devotion to his music is such, however, that he seems to not see the world in shapes. Leading to the following, perfect exchange:  "Who's that?"  "That's me!")

Then the time for the final farewell is at hand.  A so-long party is held, wherein all the kids are disgusted to discover that a catering company owned and operated by a dog serves up dog food.  Linus hands his beloved blanket over to Snoopy, and the Van Pelts (along with a large truck) ease on down the road.

Unsurprisingly, Sally does not handle being "stood up" well.  Perhaps more remarkably, Schroeder suddenly seems out of sorts without his raven-haired #1 fan around to appreciate his prodigious tinkles.  Charlie Brown is nonplussed.  All Schroeder can say is, "I never got to say goodbye."

Charlie Brown did get to say goodbye, and his soul has yet to recover (not to mention his shoulders).  Peppermint Patty picks up on his despondency and tries to recruit Marcie in a mission to cheer up Chuck.  Marcie picks up on her mentor's crush on the crushed, and makes either the grave mistake or genius move of confronting her on it.  Patty naturally denies it, but is bothered for the rest of the day by the idea that anyone anywhere at any time for any reason could be in love with wishy-washy ol' Chuck.  (Shades of There's No Time For Love, Charlie Brown.)  She is tormented by this irreconcilable notion, and calls Charlie Brown in the early AM.  Still under the spell of Hypnos, Chuck is powerless as Patty manipulates the conversation and tells him she accepts his offer of a date.  Except he didn't offer it.  She did.  (Shades of two minutes into this show.)  Masterfully done, Patricia.

So now it's Peppermint Patty's turn to wait on the porch for her paramour in potentia, and her turn to feel the sting of rejection.  Charlie Brown is barely able to keep his eyes open long enough to read the latest postcard from Linus, much less keep a date, but more to the point he thinks his conversation with Patty was actually a dream.

Her pride smarting, Patty takes yet again to Bell's Baby.  And as before, it's a one-sided affair.  Charlie Brown can only mutter and wonder as the conversation goes from admonishment to forgiveness.  These conversations are easily the highlights of the special for me; Charlie Brown's passiveness and Peppermint Patty's aggression pair up like mismatched house shoes.  Garish, but somehow comforting.

Head still spinning, Charlie Brown is then greeted with a most unusual sight:  the Van Pelts vehicles pulling up in front of their former home.  Seems Daddy Van Pelt didn't cotton to his new job, so they're back in the neighborhood.  (Guessing that DVP didn't burn any bridges on his way out of the old job.  Or that he possesses a skill-set that ensures his services are always in high demand.)  It's all back to normal, then.  Whew!  Give Linus the blanket back, stupid beagle!

In retrospect, this special was overdue and a bit underdone.  The Van Pelts relocation doesn't really affect Charlie Brown any significant way other than to make him sleep-deprived and susceptible to the wiles of crafty girls.  Whereas before he was always fully awake for that.  Linus and Lucy aren't gone long enough for us to miss them, in either the newspaper or on the DVD, so Is This Goodbye stands or falls on what is the backbone of Peanuts:  Charlie Brown, with all his yearning sadness , utter befuddlement and giddy (if short-lived) excitement.  And always, always his big fat watermelon head.  I needed multiple viewings to be comfortable with a final grade of 7.5.  Watch it expecting to be entertained, and you will be.  Watch it anticipating some poignant emotional moment that touches your heart, and you will be let down.

MUSIC:  Judy Munsen's soundtrack is here and there, but fortunately not everywhere.  Takes an inevitable turn for the funky when Joe Cool Catering gets down to business.  Less explicable was her decision to fill the last minute and a half of the program with a rewrite of "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel.

Why does the title theme sound like School Band 101, anyway?  5

ANIMATION: The general palette is reminiscent of a spotlight, in its brightness; yet not really, since it doesn't draw attention to anything.  (The fateful call between Linus and Charlie Brown is so goddamn yellow it's like the cover of The B-52's smeared with mustard.)

Charlie Brown's sad, tired face is a Schulzian wonder--expressive to the utmost without being OTT.  7.5

VOICES:  Brad Kesten rises to the occasion, earning an 8 for his profoundly doleful Charlie Brown.  Jeremy Schoenberg and Angela Lee tackle the Van Pelt siblings, earning matching 7.5's to go with their muted portrayals.

"Muted" is never a word I should use to describe Sally, and surely enough Stacy Heather Tolkin outside-voices her way to an 8.  Kevin Brandon has the unenviable task of bringing both Schroeder and Franklin to life.  I'll give him a 7 out of pity (in fairness, he's one of the more memorable Schroeders, but that's like ranking the most memorable pieces of untoasted white bread.)

Michael Dockery' s Marcie is a straight-shooting 8, but it's Victoria Vargas as her sandals-and-shorts-or bust best friend who shines above all.  She goes steadily from an 8 to 8.5.  At first, membership in the "Retainer Club" seems to have sapped her confidence, but sure enough, the more lines she speaks, the stronger her voice becomes.


--Three phone calls, two broken hearts.  Each convo is a treat of verbal farce.

--Please note Linus' sled.

--Snoopy's "Hey!" marks the third time he has exclaimed such in these specials.  (The first, and still best, involved a ring of bunnies.)

--The blanket exchange between Linus and Snoopy is foreshadowed by the pre-title sequence, where (against a backdrop of pure, fluctuating color) Snoopy tries to snatch the little boy's security away.



Adults!  My presumptuous idea of how the Peanuts universe should be depicted has been horrifically violated!

--The absence of the littlest Van Pelt, Rerun, may strike the viewer as incongruous considering he had made his animated debut seven years ago.  But since he didn't make his actual strip debut until 1972--six years after the "moving" storyline--not including him makes sense.  What would they have done, shown him on the back of a bicycle tied to the top of the car?

--Again...what did you expect a catering company run by a dog was going to serve?  Fresh sandwiches and a cheese spread?  Cakes, mousses and pies?  Polkas, schottisches and waltzes?  Most kids don't even deserve Snausages.

--The ultimate scene between Lucy and Schroeder upon the former's return is underwhelming to me.  She walks up to his piano as he pounds away, assumes the usual position, waits a bit, and announces, "Your sweetie is back!"  She says it just loud enough to penetrate Schroeder's Beethoven bubble and frighten the poor boy.

I much prefer the sequence as depicted in the comic.  The first three panels are as animated, but the final one is truly Lucy.  Her speech bubble takes up the top half of the square, and the sheer force of it sends Schroeder tumbling backwards.  I'm going to assume (since that's all I really can do) that either Angela Lee wasn't up to the vocal task, or Schulz and co. wanted to avoid shrill Lucy.  But man, shrill Lucy can be amazing sometimes.

Hey, did someone say "party down"?

Monday, June 24, 2013

He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:  2/14/68

Snoopy is making trouble!  Scaring Linus out of the placid lucidity he'd attained whilst sitting in the kiddie pool; ruining Lucy's reading of The Three Little Pigs by moving her from one place to another with the sheer power of his canine breath (eventually depositing her into yet another kiddie pool); kicking Schroeder.  Well, he actually kinda had it coming.  

From there, the mischievous beagle lies in wait, attired in Flying Ace gear, eyes trained on Patty and Violet as they unknowingly step into his trap.  He suddenly leaps out, blocking their path, and proceeds to "shoot" them with a hand-cannon worthy of Samus.  (This sequence features one of the few times Snoopy "speaks," bleating out "BANG! BANG!" so the girls realize they've been gunned down.  Rather sounds like he swallowed a duck.)

Then he scampers his cute beagle butt across the yard,  and launches right into his owner's chest.  Linus gets a boot to the butt, and finally Snoopy flees, satisfied to have brought Animals Being Dicks to life.

The kids have reached a consensus:  Curb Your Canine, Charlie Brown.  So the zig-zagged wonder makes arrangements for Snoopy to attend classes at Daisy Hill Obedience School.  For reasons known only to no one, 'cause this is not real life, he trusts his recalcitrant pet to make the trip on his own.  This goes as well as that one time and one time only that I tried Jagermeister.  Snoop stops by Peppermint Patty's crib and decides that he is in France circa the Second World War.  The gracious patio is a quaint cafe, and the root beer is quaffed to quenching.  Who'd want to leave, especially for a stupid school?  Soon, Chuck is hipped to his truant quadruped, and comes to retrieve him.  However, Snoopy the overly civilized underly dogified dog does not cotton to the leash that his owner brings, and Pep Pat orders Chuck to leave "my shortstop" alone.  

It's been a glorious week for lazy dogs with fantastical gifts, but soon Patty puts Snoopy to work washing a million dishes, which given that she and her father are the only occupants of the house, means the plates 'n things have been piling up for approximately three months.  

Snoopy misses his freedom; the kids, hearts grown plenty fond, miss Snoopy.  And if he doesn't get out of that house soon, Snoopy's gonna come up missing for real.  Charlie Brown's second attempt at retrieval is successful, and the neighborhood is back to normal.

I love He's Your Dog. My favorite Peanuts character hangs out with my second favorite.  Their warm spots for each other make me feel all cookie inside.  10.  If you have not seen this, watch it immediately.   It's on DVD now, as part of the Peanuts 1960s collection, and your money will appreciate being used for such a noble cause.

MUSIC:  Vince Guaraldi's fingers are having a frolicking good time.  I can just visualize them bouncing and dancing over the black-and-whites.  Straight happy jazz, homey.  9

ANIMATION:  Still in that classic style, with slight tweaks, giving the proceedings a familiar and pleasant look.  Unlike the star of the show, it's no trouble whatsoever.  8, with points deducted for the recycled Flying Ace footage from It's the Great Pumpkin.

VOICESHe's Your Dog is the last special to use the original voice actors.  Peter Robbins notches his usual perfect score.  His Chuck B. has never been surpassed, and most likely never will be.  (Oh that this young boy would grow up to be a man driven to violence by a botched boob job.   It does no good to ponder, I tell you.)  Sally Dryer's Lucy is an 8, and Christopher Shea's Linus a 9.  

Schroeder and 5 are seen but not heard from; same with Roy and his puzzling shirt.  (This is a nice gesture though, as Roy accompanied Peppermint Patty in her inaugural strip appearance.)  Oh, and about the sandal-ed one…Gail DeFaria does a fantastic job, her voice as sandy as the characters hair.  And it gets everywhere.  10, no question.


--The kids proclaim "Snoopy, come home!" Years later, he would make it a point to do just that, in one of the most morose kiddy films ever.

--Pep Pat is shown reading a Peanuts book with Charlie Brown and Lucy on the cover.  The meta melts metal.

--"A little chow," she just said.  Goddamn I love Peppermint Patty.  She and Snoopy, given their own strip, could have been a formidable entity of entertainment.

--Now that's a tummy just made to tickle.

--He refers to himself as "Chuck Brown."  You won't hear that often.

--Eatin' some Fluf!  

--When Snoopy rebels against the sudden domestic role that Peppermint Patty shunts him into, he starts bashing and smashing dishes at the sink.  Unsurprisingly, she is displeased, wondering "What's all this ruckus?" and then ordering, "You better ease up on that noise."  For someone who's growing up without a mom around, Patty sure does a great imitation of one.  Or of someone in the audience of a Grey Wolves gig.


--When Charlie Brown first attempts to bring Snoopy home, he remarks, "Tomorrow we'll see the kids.  They'll be glad to see you too."  Sounds like something one spouse would say to another as they bring their estrangement to a pleasant end.

--It took Daisy Hill Puppy Farm Obedience School a week to call Charlie Brown with the news that his dog had not yet arrived for classes.  

--There's being cool...then there's diving into a pool while wearing sunglasses.

--Characters that played a prominent role at the beginning of Peanuts but were relegated as Charles Schulz created more interesting children and devoted more time to Snoopy's wild mind get shot with dog-finger!  Not a coincidence!  Total visual metaphor!  It makes you laugh and reflect!  Garfield never did that!

Again, I implore you, watch He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown.  It takes the story in one Sunday strip (6/23/66) and extends it masterfully, imbuing the proceedings with humor and heart to spare.  This is why I love Peanuts.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown

AIRDATE:  10/24/1980.  (The second Peanuts special to debut the day after my birthday.)

STORY:  The circus has arrived in...whatever town the Peanuts gang lives in!  The kids are naturally excited, being kids and all, but Snoopy is in for much more than a night scarfing down popcorn and marveling at overwhelmingly whimsical death-defiance.  Our dear beagle falls for an acrobatic poodle named Fifi and inadvertently becomes part of the traveling showcase.  Renamed "Hugo the Great"--because the name "Snoopy" is simply too dull and wishy-washy to capture any audience's imagination--the wayward beagle warms up to his new environment, driven to heights he'd never before imagined (quite literally) by the love and affection of his diminutive (and frankly rather snooty-seeming) paramour.

Then the trainer, a simply delightful girl named Polly, tries to dye the pups pink for the purpose of visual coordination.    First of all, racist.  Second of all, nobody puts Fifi in a corner.  The lovestruck dogs run away, and get as far as the nearest bus stop (I'm done being gobsmacked at the ease with which animals board public transit in the Peanuts-verse, given that the number one bus service in America is named "Greyhound" and all).  Fifi makes the difficult decision to return to the circus, a place she's called home for an unknowable amount of time.  (Seriously, some back story would have been mega-cute.)  Snoopy returns to his home as well, content to let his heart heal (and his fur return to its nice normal color) with a quick refreshing shower.

This is a nice, mildly amusing special, one of those that I would never leap to watch but nor would I stop drop and roll to escape it.  I give it a 7; perfectly serviceable without being outstanding in any way, much like the music of the Smiths.  So can you believe that this was the fourth and final Peanuts special to win an Outstanding Childrens/Animated Program Emmy, joining the legendary A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, as well as the above-average You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown?  The stiff competition that year was Bugs Bunny:  All-American Hero and It's Magic, Charlie Brown.  Yeesh.

MUSIC:  Bogas 'n' Munsen.  Like vasoline on toast.  Like Vick's Vapo-Rub slathered on non-steaming cold buttermilk biscuits.  4.

Look, I don't hate this show at all, but this wins an Emmy and It's the Great Pumpkin doesn't?

ANIMATION:   The animators had a clear phobia of sharp corners.  The name of the game is "Smudgeworks."   The cadre of circus critters are drawn well, especially the gargantuan lion that doesn't cotton to being used as a blanket for a pathetic shivering beagle.  6

Look, I don't hate this show at all, but this wins an Emmy and She's a Good Skate doesn't?

VOICES:  The kids are true secondary players, playing runner-up banjo to the dogs.  Which is as it should be.  The blockhead is memorably handled by Michael Mandy, and that's not precisely a positive, as his Charlie Brown is much more high-pitched than his predecessors.  Although, ultimately, he does give good grief.  7

Earl Reilly as Linus, Kristen Fullerton as Lucy, Shannon Cohn as Marcie, and Christopher Donohue as Schroeder.  Each one made such a powerful impression on me.  I can barely type for my shaking hands.  I give them a 7.  Total.

Brent Hauer proves yet again that if you can't have Linda Ercoli voicing Peppermint Patty, the next best thing is a boy.  8.  Well done, youngster, I wish you'd had a larger role.


--Snoopy blushes easy-like me!  Aww, awkward hugs!

--When Snoopy first sets eyes on Fifi, he is struck with the thunderbolt of love, much like Michael in The Godfather when he spots the young, innocent Apollonia.  The two love stories diverge drastically from the point of initial contact, but I'd argue being forcibly dunked into a tub of pink dye is not demonstrably preferable to exploding in a car.

--School is closed so that the kids can enjoy the circus.  Needless to say, Charlie Brown is stunned when he sees his dog entertaining the crowd with acrobatics and general silliness.  He firmly insists that Snoopy return home and reassume his role as faithful companion, but feelings beyond either of their understanding compels Snoop to follow his beloved and board the train, onward to the next stop, the next show.

--Which just makes the scene at the bus stop, where Snoopy's heart visibly breaks as he waves a weak farewell to the departing Fifi, all the more sad.  Squeezes my chest-battery, I tell ya.

--"Okay, Hugo!  It took several seconds of hilarious ineptitude, but you've got the hang of that unicycle now!  You're ready for the high-wire."

--"Our Father, who art in Heaven...dude, you suck."


--Charlie Brown, deep in the throes of separation anxiety, regales Linus with the story of how Snoopy came into his little life.  Typically, some mean kid playing alongside him in a sandbox dumped a whole bucket of the grainy stuff over Chuck's rounded head.  To cheer their son up, the Browns went and bought a beagle puppy they named Snoopy.  Nice story, and straight from the source (specifically, the 1/30/72 daily strip).  But as Charles Schulz didn't hesitate to point out, the TV specials were not canon.  Meaning that twelve years later, a show was created which not only changed the "boy and his dog" origin story, but built its entire premise around said alteration.  The name of that special?  Snoopy's Reunion.  Is it great?  No, it is super-great like Hugo, and I look forward to reviewing it soon.

It didn't win an Emmy either.