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.

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