Monday, March 31, 2014

Charlie Brown's All Stars

Premiered June 8, 1966.
Charlie Brown: I really thought we were going to win this one.  For one brief moment victory was within our grasp. 
Linus: And then the game started.

Charlie Brown gets nailed by a comebacker!
Baseball season has arrived, and pitcher/manager Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) is very confident about his team's chances.  But his teammates are not optimistic.  Last season they lost every game.

Charlie Brown's teammates react to their latest loss.
When the first game arrives, Charlie Brown drops a fly ball late in the game and they lose again.  The rest of the kids are despondent and decide they've had enough.  Lucy (Sally Dryer) leads the chorus of those calling Charlie Brown a blockhead.

All of Chuck's players quit the team and decide to spend the rest of their Summer partaking in activities like skateboarding, jump-rope and swimming.  Charlie Brown is depressed by this development.

But not for long!  Linus (Christopher Shea) talks to Mr. Hennessy, proprietor of Hennessy's Hardware about sponsoring the team.  Mr. Hennessy will pay for new team uniforms and they will play in a real league.

Charlie Brown believes these changes will encourage the other kids to return to his team.  He tells Lucy and the rest about it and they rejoin the team.

Snoopy and Linus turn a double play.
But then "tragedy" strikes.  Charlie Brown learns that the league will NOT allow his team to join because they have girls and a dog on their roster!  He won't kick Snoopy (Bill Melendez), Violet (Karen Mendelson), Frieda (Ann Altieri) and Lucy off his team, so his loyalty costs him the uniforms.

Charlie Brown gets some bad news about the team uniforms.
However, Charlie Brown decides to keep this a secret from his team until AFTER his next game, believing they won't care about uniforms if they win.

Linus goes tries to field a ground ball & gets tied up in his blanket.
Will Charlie Brown's team finally win a game?  And if not, will his teammates finally quit for good!

J.A. Morris says:

Charlie Brown's All-Stars did not air very often on television and is somewhat forgotten today.  I recall seeing watching it 2, maybe 3 times when I was a kid.

Snoopy steals 3rd base!
This special is somewhat historically important, since it's the 2nd Charlie Brown special ever produced. It premiered 6 months after A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it's never been as famous as its predecessor.  This special also features the same (original) voice cast who appeared in the Christmas special.

Pigpen's (Geoffry Ornstein) cloud of dust messes up Frieda's naturally curly hair.
It's a great story that focuses on Charlie Brown being the eternal optimist.  Every game COULD be the game where he's the hero, pitching a great game or getting the big hit.  But he usually winds up being (in his words) Charlie "The Goat" Brown.  His attitude is admirable, even when his team is down by dozens of runs in the 9th inning.

Charlie Brown tells Lucy to grit her teeth "and bear down" if she wants to get a hit...
...but he fails to grit his teeth when he gets his chance to bat.
One thing that stands out is that Lucy is slightly nicer than usual.  Sure, she calls Charlie Brown a blockhead more than once, but she also gives Chuck some encouragement while he's pitching.  Lucy also gets the other girls to help her do something nice for Charlie Brown at the end of the special.

Charlie Brown slides into 2nd base.
Charlie Brown's All Stars gives just about every character at least one humorous line of dialogue. Shermy, a fairly obscure character today, gets one of the best lines of the special, when he suggests Charlie Brown gets "neurotic pleasure" from losing!

Shermy quits the team & says Chuck actually enjoys losing games.
Charlie Brown's All Stars is slightly more "action oriented" than most specials.  The baseball game features plenty of base running, hitting and fielding.  We also see the kids skateboarding and jumping rope.

Charlie Brown jumps rope held by Violet and Patty (Lynn Vanderlip)
I mentioned Shermy, another somewhat forgotten character that appears in the special is 5, who is best remembered for his dancing in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  These lesser-known characters, along with Patty and Violet would gradually fade into the background, replaced by Peppermint Patty, Franklin and Marcie. 

5 relaxes on his skateboard.
Vince Guaraldi composed the music for Charlie Brown All Stars and it's great as usual.  It opens with Charlie Brown chasing down accompanied by a simple but great bass and drum tune.  Guaraldi's most famous composition "Linus And Lucy" here gets a new arrangement with some horns added.

Snoopy surfs in Linus' pool.
Some aspects of the special clearly place it in 1966.  Surfing and skateboarding first gained major popularity in the 60s, they're both featured here.

And there's a scene where Charlie Brown runs through a house in pursuit of a fly ball.  The furniture he passes would fit in nicely in the Mad Men offices.

Check out the orange couch & lamp.
There are currently several ways you can watch Charlie Brown's All Stars.  It's available on a dvd set called Peanuts 1960s Collection.  It also can also be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.

Charlie Brown's All Stars is lots of fun and it's a great way to celebrate the return of baseball season.  And since it only aired sporadically on TV, it might be new to folks in my demographic who grew up watching Charlie Brown specials.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Sparkys!

Announcing Baseball Fest 2014!

"Baseball is my longest-lasting theme, and I think I'll always do it."
-Charles Schulz

Today is Opening Day of Major League Baseball's 2014 season. Various sports were featured in Peanuts comic strips and tv specials over the years.  But baseball loomed larger than anything else in Charlie Brown's universe.  Which makes sense, since baseball was America's National Pastime during the 20th Century, while Peanuts was the quintessential American comic strip of its day.  

  "Charlie Brown can never be a winner.  He can never win a baseball game because it would destroy the foundation of the strip"
-Schulz, in Peanuts Jubilee,1975.
Some of the most famous editions of the comic strip revolve around baseball.  Charlie Brown often gets hit by a line drive, knocking off his shirt and shoes.  His team never wins, losing sometimes by more than 100 runs.

When Charlie Brown competed in a Spelling Bee, his baseball fandom caused him to spell the word "maze" incorrectly.  He spelled it m-a-y-s, as in Willie Mays.  This made Chuck a "loser" in baseball and spelling! 

 "Winning is happy, but happy isn't funny"
-Schulz, interviewed in Sports Illustrated, December 23, 1985.

But despite his team's lack of success, Charlie Brown always believes the next game will be different.  During the early days of baseball season, every team has dreams of winning the Pennant and World Series.  By the end of the month, wins and losses will separate the contenders from the pretenders.  So today, you might say that on Opening Day, every player and manager is Charlie Brown!
There were several tv specials that were built around baseball.  Over the next few days, I will be reviewing them here.  Check back later for the first of these reviews.  Until then,


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show-Episode 1: "Snoopy's Cat Fight"

Premiered September 17, 1983.

Peppermint Patty: Stop chewing on your eraser, Chuck, it bugs me!.  Stop drumming your fingers on the desk, Chuck.  It grosses me out!
Charlie Brown: (sigh)
Peppermint Patty: And don't hassle me with your sighs, Chuck!

The first episode of this 1980s series gives us several short segments featuring Charlie Brown and the gang:

"Woodstock"-Snoopy (Bill Melendez) is playing basketball and decides to use Woodstock's (Melendez) nest as a basket.

 Ouch!  But the little birdie gets the last laugh.

"Baseball"-Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten)  is determined "bear down and pitch a great game" when he learns the Little Red Haired Girl is watching the game.  Chuck wants to impress her,but he freezes up, then can't stop shaking and is unable to finish the game.

 How will his team do without its starting pitcher?

Sally says the contents of the box will fill her classmates "with terror and horror."
 "Sally"-Chuck's little sister Sally (Stacy Heather Tolkin) has difficulty when she attempts to give "Show & Tell" reports at school.

"Peppermint Patty"-When his school building collapses, Charlie Brown is forced to go to another school...and share a desk with Peppermint Patty ().  This leads to Peppermint Patty criticizing everything Chuck does...and a trip to the Principal's office for both of them.

"Piano"-Lucy gets some competition for Schroeder's (Kevin Brando) attention, as Freida (Mary Tunnell) decides to lean on the piano as well.

 Plus, Shroeder gets some musical competition when Snoopy shows up to play the accordion.

"Blanket"-Eudora (Mary Tunnell), the new girl in the neighborhood asks Linus if she can hold his security blanket.  When Eudora smiles at him, it convinces Linus () to let her take the blanket home.

But he soon realizes his mistake when he starts having a nervous breakdown.

When he tries go get it back, Linus discovers that Eudora has given the blanket to the cat next door.  Linus then gets Snoopy and Woodstock to help him rescue the blanket from the cat.  This leads to a dog/cat/boy and bird fight!

 J.A. Morris says:
I realize this is an episode of a tv series, rather than a special, but I think it's "non-holiday" nature makes it worth covering here.

Snoopy stops a baseball game to get his ears scratched.
 This was a series I watched occasionally (I was "transitioning" into my teen years & out of Saturday morning cartoons) when it first aired. I remember enjoying it at the time, but I hadn't seen in 20+ years until it was released last year on dvd.  I want to recommend that series (and dvd) to any fan who might have missed it until now.

Marcie (Micheal Dockery) points out the Peppermint Patty mis-spelled "disturbance".
 As for "Snoopy's Cat Fight", it's a very good first episode.  What we get in this series is (quite literally) animated adaptations of Schulz's comic strips. Most of them are less than five minutes long.  Even if you know the "plots" of these shorts from the strip, it's still fun to see them animated.

Many of the familiar and beloved tropes from the specials and comic strip are featured here:Charlie Brown's pitching difficulties, Lucy seeks attention from Schroeder while questioning the greatness of Beethoven, Snoopy attempts to steal Linus' blanket, Peppermint Patty falling asleep in class, and so on. 

Snoopy attempts to "charm" the blanket away from Eudora.
The voice actors were all well cast, most of them also worked in Charlie Brown specials that were made in the 1980s.  Ed Bogas and Desiree Goyette composed the music for the show.  It's pretty good piano/flute jazz music.

One thing that jumped out was that while this series was aimed at children, it wasn't "dumbed down" for Saturday mornings.  When Charlie Brown gets nervous about the Little Red Haired Girl, Schroeder suggests they may need a neurologist.  How many kids cartoons ever mentioned the word "neurologist"?

I'd say my favorite short was the "Peppermint Patty" segment.  I always enjoy seeing her interact with Charlie Brown.  In many of the specials, Peppermint Patty hints that she might have a crush on Chuck.  But not here, as their close proximity brings out the worst in Peppermint Patty.

And the last short, "Blanket" was also good.  It was interesting to see a new-ish character like Eudora (introduced in the comic strip in 1978) interact with long-established cast members like Linus and Sally.
A note about the availability of this show:The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show is only available on dvd from the Warner Archive, a Manufactured-On-Demand service.  The series (and individual episodes) can also be streamed (for a fee, of course) at Amazon.

I don't plan to review every episode of The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show, but I will give a solid recommendation to the whole series.  And "Snoopy's Cat Fight" is a very good beginning to the show. 

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half Sparkys.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Have you seen the Peanuts teaser trailer?

I've got some new reviews on the way (promise I won't go a year between reviews again!), but I thought I should comment on the big "Charlie Brown" news of the week.

A teaser trailer for the upcoming Peanuts theatrical film made it's debut the other day, check it out if you haven't seen it:

I've seen a mixed reaction online so far.   Some fans don't care for the computer animation and they say it looks inferior to the classic specials.     

It's barely a minute long, but it looks good to me.  I'm optimistic about the film.  Do I expect it to be as good as A Boy Named Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas?  No, but few things are.  And while I generally enjoy animated films, I realize I'm not the intended demographic.

It will be directed by Steve Martino.  The only film of his that I've seen was Horton Hears A Who.  I thought it was good rather than great, but it was my favorite of the feature length Dr. Seuss adaptations.  Craig Schulz and his son Brian Schulz are, respectively the son and grandson of Charles Schulz.  They're both on board as writer/producers, so I presume the source material will be treated with the utmost respect.

I don't know if this is the final voice actor we'll get for Chuck, but he sounds like Charlie Brown to my ears.  And if that's not a recording of the late Bill Melendez voicing Snoopy, it's a great facsimile.  
If nothing else, I'm guessing that the build-up to the movie's release will lead to a Peanuts renaissance of sorts.  Maybe we'll finally get releases of theatrical films and specials that have never been reissued on dvd/blu-ray. 

In my book, anything that can introduce Peanuts to a younger generation is a good thing.

Mark your calendars for the November 6, 2015 release date!