Friday, April 4, 2014

It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown

Released on home video January, 1996, first TV broadcast February 23, 1998.

Linus:Well, how does the old team look this year, manager?
Charlie Brown:It's hard to say, but I try to be optimistic
Linus:Optimism is admirable in a manager, isn't it?  What other traits do you have?
Charlie Brown:Stupidity!

Spring has arrived, and with it comes the beginning of a new baseball season.

Charlie Brown (Justin Shenkarow) has gathered his team together for Spring Training.  No one is hitting or fielding very well.  Nevertheless, ol' Chuck is optimistic as usual.

Lucy (Marnette Patterson) takes a fly ball off her noggin.
A little boy named Leland (Gregory Grudt) arrives and tells Charlie Brown he wants to try out for the "Big Leagues."  Charlie Brown is reluctant, initially telling Leland he's too little for the team.  But Charlie Brown is impressed by Leland's persistence and gives him a spot on the roster.

Before their first game, Charlie Brown, Linus (John Christian Graas) and Snoopy (Bill Melendez) visit Hennesy's Hardware.  The store's owner, Mr. Hennessy says he will buy new uniforms for Chuck's team.  But there's a catch:They have to win their first
Snoopy, Linus & Chuck outside Hennessy's Hardware.
Will Charlie Brown's team finally win a game and get new uniforms?

J.A. Morris says:

This was a special I'd never seen until recently.  It was produced in 1992, but never aired on tv prior to its straight-to-video release in 1996.  I'm not sure why, because it's an enjoyable special.  Not great, but good.

Charlie Brown shows Leland his signal for a bunt.
It's always fun to watch the Peanuts kids play baseball.  I especially appreciated Charlie Brown's attempt to get the team together while the baseball diamond was covered with snow.  We've had a long Winter this year, so I could identify with this.

The shortstop arrives via ski lift on the first day of "Spring" Training.
Leland (who first appeared in late-70s comic strips) is cute and amusing here.  I liked his interactions with Charlie Brown, who maybe sees a bit of himself in Leland.  Chuck is nice to his fellow underdog and gives him a chance to make the team.

Leland is too short to bat, the pitch goes over his head. 
Snoopy fans will appreciate his trip to the hardware store.  The beagle winds up on the business end of a wrench, a paint shaker and a leaf blower!

Usually, Charlie Brown is the victim of Lucy's taunts.  But in this special, he shows he can give as good as he gets, calling her "the worst outfielder in the history of baseball".  Not the nicest thing to say, but it's somewhat refreshing to see Charlie Brown not being the perpetual victim.

But several things keep this from being a great special.

Charlie Brown wears his cap to bed the night before the first game...

...and Snoopy wears his too.
The plot (new uniforms from Mr. Henessey) is sort of a repeat from Charlie Brown's All Stars, produced 26 years earlier.    

There's a scene where the gang visits Hennessey's Hardware and Mr. Hennessy makes a brief appearance.  I'm sorry, but adults appearing onscreen in Charlie Brown specials just feels...wrong.  I can make exceptions to this "rule", but Hennessey's appearance adds nothing and feels intrusive.

An adult in a Charlie Brown special?
The music, credited to Judy Munsen, is a mixed bag.  Some of it is built around synthesizers and seems a bit out of date even for a special produced in the 1990s.  Some other music, credited to (a person? or group called) D'Cuckoo sounds like it was influenced by 90s hip-hop.  It reminded me of the theme from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air and provides nice background music for the baseball scenes.

Schroeder (Travis Boles) tags out an opposing player.
Speaking of hip-hop, It's Spring Training contains the first appearance (to my knowledge) of rap music in a Charlie Brown special.  Franklin (Jessica Nwafor) performs a hip-hop version of "The Hokey Pokey" called "That's What It's All About".  My favorite part of the rap was these lyrics:
It’s time you started worryin’
Your strategy’s in a muddle
If you’re a little airplane
We’re the space shuttle!

Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus & Leland dance the Hokey Pokey.
Some Peanuts fans might think that's a sacrilege, but I liked it.  It was a nice way of acknowledging that times change, even in Charlie Brown's world.

Franklin raps & dances
One note of trivia about the voice actors in this special.  There's an unnamed girl with red hair and an orange shirt on Charlie Brown's team, pictured below next to Lucy:

IMDB refers to her as "girl player", she's voiced by Elisabeth Moss, best known for her roll as Mad Men's Peggy Olsen.

This special can found on a dvd called Happiness Is Peanuts:Team Snoopy.  It's also available for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

 It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown, is a decent special.  It's worth watching at least once, but the reasons listed above place it a few notches below the classic specials.  The presence of an adult costs it about half a Sparky.

J.A. Morris' rating:


2 and a half Sparkys.

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