Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown

Premiered February 1, 1974.

Woodstock (Bill Melendez) has built a brand new nest and is very proud of it.

However, disaster soon strikes when his nest disapears!  Woodstock's best friend Snoopy (Melendez again) puts on his detective costume and helps the bird investigate the case of the missing nest.

At the same time, Sally Brown (Lynn Mortensen) is cracking up due to pressures at school.  Her science teacher has assigned Sally to bring in "something from nature" to be used in a science exhibit. Sally vows to show the teacher "the best exhibit she's ever seen!"

Snoopy and Woodstock begin their search for the nest by interrogating Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee).

When that proves fruitless, they visit the homes of Lucy (Melanie Kohn) and Linus (Stephen Shea), Peppermint Patty (Donna Forman), Pigpen (Tom Muller) and Marcy (Jimmy Arens).

Their search comes up empty at every house, and Snoopy is terrorized by Peppermint Patty, who thinks the beagle wants to play "Cops and Robbers."

Their exhaustive investigation leads them to Birchwood School.  They find Woodstock's nest in the science lab.  They learn it was taken by Sally because she needed it for her assignment.

Snoopy rescues the nest and returns it to its proper place.  Woodstock has his nest, but now Sally has nothing for her science class.

Sally decides to sue Woodstock and force him to return the nest.  Woodstock hires Snoopy to represent him as his attorney.  The presiding judge in the case will be none other than Lucy Van Pelt! Lucy converts her psychiatrist booth into a court of law.

How will "Judge Lucy" rule on the case?  Will Woodstock lose his home?  Will Sally flunk her science assignment?

J.A. Morris says:
The plot of It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown is pretty thin, but it's fun and entertaining enough.  This is one of those specials that consists of "Peanuts characters do funny stuff" and that's about it.  But that's okay.

Snoopy's "Sherlock Holmes" costume is amusing.  His interactions with Marcy, Peppermint Patty and the Van Pelt siblings is humorous.  Peppermint Patty is depicted as being a bit crazier than usual and their "Cops and Robbers" game is a high point of the special.

Woodstock gets put through the ringer in the first few minutes.  He loses his nest and is nearly washed away in a rain storm, which might upset some younger viewers.

It's worth noting that Snoopy and Woodstock are the only characters onscreen for the first five minutes.  This means that the only "dialogue" during that time consists of bird and dog noises made by Bill Melendez.  This didn't bother me, but some viewers might find this a bit unnerving.

The animation is excellent, the animators and production team were really hitting their stride when It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown was produced.  The rainstorm that Woodstock encounters is particularly gorgeous.  I love the way storm clouds are drawn to look like they were drawn by a child using the edge of a pencil lead.

The voice actors here are mostly good.  Since Woodstock and Snoopy are the leads, that means Bill Melendez has to do a bit more squawking than usual.  He is more than up to the task.

It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown was created near the end of  Vince Guaraldi's life, when his music was changing.  The soundtrack features lots of funky, electric guitar and electric keyboard.  Some of it was later re-used in It's the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown. It's not the same music Guaraldi was playing in the early specials, but I love it!

This special has been released on the DVD titled Peanuts:The 1970s Collection Vol. 1.  It also streams on Amazon video.

It's a Mystery Charlie Brown is hardly a classic, but it's got enough funny moments and great Guaraldi music to warrant repeated viewings.  Especially recommended for die-hard fans of Woodstock.

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half Sparkys.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

You're A Good Man Charlie Brown

Premiered November 6, 1985.

"Did you know that Charlie Brown has never pitched a winning baseball game, never been able to keep a kite in the air, never won a game of checkers and never successfully punted a football? Sometimes I marvel at his consistency."

I'm dropping my usual format since this special is a bit different from most.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of the premier of the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the animated TV adaptation.

A little background for those who unfamiliar with the show.  You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown began as a 1966 album of songs based on the comic strip.  It was produced as an Off-Broadway musical in 1967, with dialogue added in between the songs.  It was highly successful and ran until 1971.

This TV special was produced nearly twenty years after the stage show.  As Peanuts historian Nat Gertler notes in the DVD's bonus documentary, this animated special is an adaptation of the Off-Broadway show, which adapted the album, which adapted the comic strip!

You're A Good Man could be described as "Peanuts' Greatest Hits, with songs and dancing!"  There's no unifying story, just a series of vignettes that cover such Peanuts tropes as Charlie Brown's team losing baseball games...

Chuck failing to fly a kite...

The gang struggling to write book reports...

Lucy leaning on Schroeder's piano and expressing love for him...

Charlie Brown pining over the Little Red-Haired Girl, but afraid to talk to her, etc.

One interesting aspect is that since it was produced in the 1980s, we get to see Schroeder using a personal computer to type his book report.

While typing his book report, Schroeder also imagines a video game, so we're treated to animation that depicts 80s-style graphics.

It makes this special an interesting product of its time.

I'm generally not a fan of Broadway musicals.  However, I've seen a live production of You're A Good Man and I've always felt its songs, written by Clark Gesner are pretty good.

The closing song "Happiness" is probably the most famous song of the musical and deservedly so.  It's a nice list of little things that bring smiles to our faces and help us get through tough days.  As an adult, I can tell you that when you've had a bad day "two kinds of ice cream" may not solve all your problems, but they can help you see that tomorrow may be different and better.  It should be noted that since this special runs just under an hour, some songs from the stage musical are not included.

Snoopy gets two numbers, "Supper Time" is my favorite of the pair.

Unlike the stage musical, which cast adults as Charlie Brown and friends, Melendez and Mendelson continue their practice of using children to voice the characters.  All of the voice-actors do a good job with their characters. Charlie Brown has a different voice-actor for speaking and singing parts, with Brad Kesten (who voiced Charlie Brown in several other specials) voicing Chuck's dialogue and Kevin Brando performing the songs.  The creative team did a nice job casting actors with similar voices.

It's worth noting that this is the first time Snoopy gets a "speaking" voice.  In addition to Bill Melendez' usual dog noises, Robert Towers (an adult voice actor) provides the beagle's singing voice, and speaks for Snoopy when we hear his thoughts.  Towers played Snoopy in a stage production and his voice is a good match for the character.

It looks like the producers gave a little more effort than usual, perhaps out of reverence for the musical.  The animation looks great.  There's a particularly beautiful sunset scene where the background looks like watercolor painting.

This special has been released on DVD and it's also available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown isn't among the best Peanuts specials, but it's a good adaptation of the beloved musical with good voice-actors and better-than-average animation.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Sparkys.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Peanuts By Schulz

Premiered in the U.S. May 9, 2016.

Hi again everyone, I haven't posted in a while, I've got several reviews in progress that will be posted in the near future.  Until then, here's a short review of "shorts."

Back in 2014, a new series of Peanuts shorts, titled Peanuts by Schulz premiered on French television.  This series premiered in the states earlier this year on the Boomerang network and Cartoon Network.

Peanuts By Schulz is somewhat slight compared to the classic specials of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  The episodes are only seven minutes long, sometimes they're shown in fifteen minute blocks.  The series' content is very similar to The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show, which featured several short stories each episode.

This series consists of adaptations of classic comic strips.  Sometimes we even see borders that are seen between panels of strips.  Peanuts By Schulz features beautiful animation that looks like a combination of watercolors and newsprint.

The voice actors are all well cast.  While the French version used adult actors, the American version used child actors who auditioned for the Peanuts movie but didn't make the cut.  

I don't plan to review every episode, but I give these shorts a solid recommendation and encourage all fans of Charlie Brown to seek out the series.

Some long-time fans of animated Peanuts were put off by the computer-animated look of the characters in the Peanuts theatrical film.  I liked that movie, but Peanuts By Schulz shows that traditional Peanuts cartoons are alive and well.

Those who don't get Boomerang or Cartoon Network will be pleased to learn that the series will be released on DVD on January 24 on a 2-disc set titled Peanuts:Snoopy Tales.

You can watch a 2-minute "minisode" from Peanuts By Schulz in this video:

That's all for now, check back in early 2017 for some new reviews of Charlie Brown specials, thanks for stopping by,


Friday, February 5, 2016

You're In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown.

Premiered January 18, 1994.

Marcie:I'm not sure I'd want to go to the Splendid Bowl, sir.
Peppermint Patty:Super Bowl, Marcie!

The Animal Football Legue (AFL) season is winding down.  Snoopy (Bill Melendez) is coaching his Bouncy Birdies in a game that will decide the winner of the AFL's Eastern Division.

The Birds easily defeat a team of cats.

Coach Snoopy is rewarded with the Division Championship trophy and a bath of Chirpade!

Later, Lucy (Molly Dunham) is trying to get Charlie Brown (Jimmy Guardino) to fall for her "kick the ball" gag.  Peppermint Patty (Haley Peel) arrives and interrupts them with some exciting news.

She's learned of a Punt, Pass and Kick skills contest.  The winner will receive a new bicycle and a trip to the Super Bowl.  Chuck and the others are excited and decide to enter the competition.

While practicing for the contest, Linus and Charlie Brown, meet a girl named Melody Melody (Crystal Kuns) and invite her to join them at an ice cream parlor.

It's obvious that both Chuck and Linus are both smitten with Melody.  She tells the boys she has confidence in them and will be rooting for them during the competition.

Later, during halftime of a football game, it's time for the Punt, Pass and Kick contest.  The boys see Melody in the crowd.  Linus thinks she's come to watch him, while Charlie Brown presumes she's there to see him.

All the kids are representing different NFL teams and wearing their helmets.

Lucy is the first competitor, wearing a Raiders helmet.

Next up is Franklin, representing the Houston Oilers...

...followed by Peppermint Patty, representing the Broncos.

Pigpen competes in a Green Bay helmet.

Marcie wears Washington's burgundy and gold.  She does okay with passing, but feels kicking the ball would be cruel.

Charlie Brown, showing off his 49ers uniform, does great and takes the lead in the contest.

Peppermint Patty believes Chuck has won, but Linus, wearing a Rams helmet, beats his friend by a few inches.

Linus thinks he's won a trip to the Super Bowl and a new bike, but it turns out there's one more surprise competitor.

Meanwhile, Coach Snoopy is preparing his Bouncy Birdies to face the Beastly Bisons in the Animal Football League championship game.

The Birds come out fired up and take a 14-0 lead.  Lucy isn't impressed and suggests Snoopy should call more "modern" plays.

Who will win the Punt, Pass and Kick contest?  Can Snoopy's team of birds defeat the Bisons and win the championship?

I had not seen You're In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown until now.  It's a decent special built around a sporting competition, even if the story is a bit thin.  The animation looks great, especially during the Punt, Pass and Kick contest.

While Charlie Brown doesn't win, it's somewhat refreshing to see him depicted as a good athlete.

In real life Punt, Pass and Kick competitions, kids wear official NFL team.  So their inclusion adds a bit of realism to the special.  It's interesting to note that Franklin wears the colors of the Houston Oilers, a team that doesn't exist today.  They've since moved to Nashville and changed their name to the Titans.

Lucy represents the Raiders in the contest.  Historically, the Raiders have been considered by some to be a "bad guy" team, so it makes sense that Lucy wears their colors.

During the football games, the bird players are given humorous names.  When the birds play the dogs, the announcer mentions players named Unitas, Namath and Csonka, which are names of Hall Of Fame football players.

The bird players are given Presidential names like Tyler, Fillmore and Van Buren when they face off against the Bison.

The football game scenes in this special are entertaining and they contain lots of action.  But the game portions rely on lots of recycled animation.  The opening game against the Cats re-uses the same footage at least four times.  In fact, all three games feature the same footage, with  different animal opponents added. Such overuse of animation gets distracting and a bit annoying after a while. I also recognized footage of cheerleaders that was taken from It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown's previous gridiron-themed special.

But the biggest problem I had was the ending.  You're In The Super Bowl just sort just...ends.  I found myself saying "is that it?" the first time I watched the special.  It even feels unfinished.  But I don't think it's a bad special, just sort of middling.

The voice actors are all good, they "sound like" their characters should sound.  Jimmy Guardino is especially convincing as Charlie Brown.  This special is Guardino's only acting credit, it's a shame he didn't voice Charlie Brown in future Peanuts productions.

During the football scenes, the action is described by a sports announcer voiced by Steve Stoliar.  In addition to some voice-acting work, Stoliar has written for television series and produced documentaries. He first gained notoriety when he worked as Groucho Marx's secretary and archivist during the legendary comedian's final years.  Fans of Groucho should read Stoliar's book Raised Eyebrows (I highly recommend the book) and visit him online at stevestoliar.com.

The Birds celebrate a fumble recovery!
David Benoit provides the score here, it's all newly recorded versions of Vince Guaraldi's classic tunes.  Guaraldi's "Charlie Brown Theme" is performed in a nice up-tempo horn-based arrangement, which makes it sound like a football fight song.  "Peppermint Patty's Theme" is used to accompany Linus and Chuck's football practice. Slowed-down performances of "Charlie Brown And His All Stars" and "Surfin' Snoopy" serve as the soundtrack for the Punt, Pass and Kick contest.  Nice work by Benoit.

This special has never been released on DVD.  That's likely due to the inclusion of real NFL team logos.  Current rights holders would need to make a new deal with the league for any possible reissue.  However, you can still find copies of the VHS at libraries (which is how found my review copy) and you can buy used copies from online vendors.

Lucy gets a bath of Chirpade!
You're In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown is a decent special with some entertaining action.  If you're a Peanuts fan who also enjoys NFL football, it's worth watching at least once.  But its overdependence on recycled animation and thin plot keep it from receiving a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

 2 and a half Sparkys.