Tuesday, November 17, 2015

You're In Love, Charlie Brown

Premiered June 12, 1967.

Charlie Brown:Why can't I have lunch with that little red-haired girl?  I get all worked up and my stomach starts to hurt I don't know what's the matter with me.  I don't feel very well
Linus:I know what's the matter with you.  You're in love, Charlie Brown.

Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) is nervous all the time.  He can't stop thinking about one of his classmates, the little red-haired girl.  Linus (Christoper Shea) understands right away that Chuck is in love.  He encourages his friend to tell the girl he likes her, but Charlie Brown is too shy to express his feelings.  But Chuck is running out of time.  There are only two more days of school before Summer Vacation begins.

This unrequited love dominates every moment of Charlie Brown's daily life.  He composes a love letter to the girl while at school.

When the teacher calls on him to present an oral report about Africa, he takes his notes up front to read.  Unfortunately, he gets his love letter gets mixed up with notes about Africa and he reads the letter aloud in front of the whole class.

During lunchtime, the little red-haired girl walks right by Charlie Brown.  It's a great opportunity to talk to her, but Chuck is so nervous he puts his lunch bag over his head!

The events of the day make Charlie Brown the laughing stock of the school.  Lucy (Sally Dryer) and Violet (Ann Altieri) are particularly cruel to him when he encounters them after school.  They mock him and sing a song about how no one could love Chuck because his head is "too darn round."

Charlie Brown is dejected.  He walks home alone declaring that he's just experienced "the worst day of my life."

Love is also in the air for other kids.  Lucy vies for Schroeder's attention.  When conventional methods fail, she takes drastic action.

Sally (Kathy Steinberg) also swoons over Linus, much to his embarrassment.

Chuck is unsure of what he should do, so he turns to Peppermint Patty (Gail DeFaria) for advice. Charlie Brown tells her he has a crush on a girl in his class, so Peppermint Patty decides to play matchmaker.

 The results of her matchmaking are less than spectacular.

The last day of school arrives and Charlie Brown decides that he's going to break down and tell her how he feels.   Knowing that the girl takes the bus to school, Chuck wakes up at the crack of dawn to be the first one at the bus stop.

Will Charlie Brown tell the little red-haired girl that he likes her?  If he does, how will she react?


You're In Love, Charlie Brown is the 4th Peanuts special and it's very good.  This is the first special to introduce the unseen little red-haired girl that Chuck crushes on.  I enjoyed this special, but I should mention that you may tire of hearing the phrase "that little red-haired girl" after the umpteenth time Charlie Brown says it.

Chuck plays "she loves me, she loves me not; Linus doubts that "a flower has the gift of prophecy."
Just like in other specials, some of the dialog was taken directly from Peanuts comic strips.   One of my favorite lines from Charlie Brown is "there's nothing like unrequited love to take all the flavor out of a peanut butter sandwich."

We get a rare sign of "continuity" between Charlie Brown specials.  Lucy mentions that she was "the Christmas Queen," which is, of course, a reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

You're In Love, Charlie Brown is historically important for two reasons:

Peppermint Patty makes her first appearance in animated form.  She's a great character and an important member of the cast.  In my book, the definitive Peanuts "ensemble" doesn't really come together until Peppermint Patty arrives on the scene. 

This is also the first time we hear Chuck's school teacher speak in the "wah-wah-wah" voice.  This would become a staple in Charlie Brown specials for more than a decade.  The teacher's "voice" was created using a muted trombone.

Most of the original Peanuts voice actors appear in this special.  Peter Robbins is good as ever as Charlie Brown.  When Chuck says he's having the worst day of his life, Robbins makes us believe it.  Gail DeFaria makes her first of three appearances as Peppermint Patty and she's great too.  Ann Altieri and Sally Dryer are perfectly vicious as Violet and Lucy.  

Sally prepares to graduate from Kindergarten.  We get a rare glimpse of her room.
The animation in this special is gorgeous from beginning to end.  There a lots of beautiful flowers in the background, giving the impression that Springtime is in full bloom.  We even get a nice brief scene of various animals falling "in love."

And we get some great animation of Charlie Brown's reactions whenever he sees the little red-haired girl.

There's an odd moment near the end of this special I must address.  Charlie Brown runs out to the school bus so he can talk to the little red-haired girl before she gets on.  We see a crowd of students walk past Chuck.  Linus walks past him twice.  

Charlie Brown doesn't see the little red-haired girl, but in this shot, you can see a red-haired girl through the bus' windshield:

Perhaps it's not THE little red-haired girl, but this would've bothered me as a kid.  I'm sure this is just a case of the animators running out of time, money and characters to use.

Peppermint Patty talks to "Lucille."
Vince Guaraldi's title theme is very bouncy, catchy jazz waltz.  It also serves as the tune for Lucy's and Violet's nasty song about Chuck.  Guaraldi also wrote a new theme for  Peppermint Patty that's introduced here and it's one of my favorite Guaraldi compositions. 

Snoopy's visit to the playground is nicely choreographed with a Guaraldi piece titled "The Red Baron."

Snoopy jumps rope while simultaneously kicking a tetherball!

This special has been released multiple times on dvd.  It can be found in the Peanuts 1960s Collection and another dvd called Happiness Is Peanuts:Friends ForeverIt also streams on Amazon.

You're In Love, Charlie Brown is a great special from the classic era of Peanuts animation.  It has universal appeal because we've all likely been in a scenario where we were too shy to express our feelings.  The first appearances of the teacher's voice and Peppermint Patty earn it an extra half-Sparky.

4 Sparkys!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Peanuts Movie

Premiered November 6, 2015.

Since this film is in theaters now I'm going to break from my normal "summary/review" format today.  This review is also more extemporaneous than usual.

If you're reading this, you're probably a fan of Peanuts.  Ever since this film was announced, we've heard Charlie Brown fans worry that it would be terrible and antithetical to Charles Schulz' vision of his characters.

I can tell you that The Peanuts Movie is very good and not a betrayal to its source material.  Which is not surprising, since Craig and Bryan Schulz (Schulz' son and grandson, respectively) co-wrote the story with Cornelius Uliano.

Yes, the characters are more detailed and they look different than what we've seen before.  But they're still recognizable and I'm glad Blue Sky Studios didn't try to make them look "realistic" (like the way Alvin is depicted in the recent Chipmunks movies).  Several fantasy sequences are depicted in the style of "traditional" animation, which should satisfy those who don't like the new depictions of Chuck and the gang.

The movie opens with Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" playing and I'll admit I got a bit choked up when I that playing over a movie theater sound system.

Its first scene is reminiscent of  A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) expresses his frustration at failing at kite-flying, baseball and just about everything else.

We get two parallel story lines:

Charlie Brown's desire for the little red-haired girl to notice him, and Snoopy's World War I fantasy quest to win the love of a dog named Fifi (Kristin Chenoweth) while trying to shoot down his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron.

I'm reluctant to spoil much more of the plot.  Needless to say, Chuck flops every time he tries to gain the attention of the little red-haired girl.  Until...well, you'll have to see you movie to find out what happens.

There's also a very touching scene where Charlie Brown sees that his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) is in a pickle.  He goes out of his way, to his own detriment, to help his little sister.

We see lots of homages and nods to previous Charlie Brown movies and specials.  Linus (Alexander Garfin) even manages a one-liner about the Great Pumpkin.  But none of these "inside" references are distracting and kids can enjoy this movie without seeing the previous animated offerings.

It was nice that the filmmakers blended casts of characters from different eras.  Shermy, Patty and Violet were later overshadowed and replaced by Peppermint Patty, Franklin and Marci.  Hardcore Peanuts fans will recall that in past specials, the latter three kids went to a different school.  The decision by the filmmakers to put them in the same schools doesn't bother me, since Charlie Brown specials were never strong on continuity. 

While Franklin is the only non-white character who has a speaking role, there is a lot more ethnic diversity among the background characters than in earlier Charlie Brown animation.  This is a step in the right direction, Chuck's classroom should look like the United States of 2015, and it does.

I've seen two major complaints by critics and fans, I'll address them:

1."The Peanuts Movie has a somewhat-happy ending and that doesn't belong in Charlie Brown's world."  Most Charlie Brown speicals/movies end with Chuck's status quo restored, sometimes made worse.  However, this isn't always the case.  Sometimes Charlie Brown (or another character, in the rare case Chuck isn't the main focus) achieved some level of success (such as winning a spelling bee or gaining leadership skills).

2."There's too much action, Peanuts isn't about action it's about characters."  I can think of plenty of "action" sequences in classic Charlie Brown animation.  Snoopy grabs the blanket and sprints away with Linus in multiple specials.  The Red Baron scenes, Chuck getting hit by a line drive.  I could list more, but action has been part of Peanuts films and and specials for years.

In the tradition of Peanuts films of the past, the characters are voiced by children.  Noah Schnapp carries the film as Charlie Brown and also serving as narrator.  Snoopy and Woodstock are voiced by archived recordings of the late Bill Melendez, who of course voiced them for over three decades. Hadley Belle Miller is convincing as Lucy, especially when calling Chuck a blockhead.

In most Charlie Brown specials, adults voices were only heard as "wah-wah-wah-wah" noises played on a trombone.  Thankfully, the creative team here brought in Trombone Shorty (real name:Troy Andrews) to re-create this sound in The Peanuts Movie.  

The only famous name in the cast is Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, who voices Fifi.  Chenoweth won a Tony Award in 1999 for playing Sally in a revival of the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.  So her appearance here is a bit of stunt-casting.

I obviously enjoyed it,  but The Peanuts Movie is not perfect.  We get a scene where Peppermint Patty refers to Snoopy as " that crazy dog," whereas in the past, she's always called him "that funny looking kid with the big nose."  Maybe the filmmakers thought that wouldn't work in 2015?  I don't know.

I don't care much for Meghan Trainor's song "Better When I'm Dancing," which was recorded specifically for this film.  I know how the film and music industries work today, I'm not bothered by the presence of a pop song in a Charlie Brown movie.  But it has too much auto tuning for me and feels out of place in The Peanuts Movie.

Christophe Beck's original music is okay.  Beck arranges several of Guaraldi's tunes and adds his own unique twists.  The slowed down, melancholy version of "Linus And Lucy" is very effective.   And "Carnival Panic," which segues into a punched-up version of "Linus And Lucy" is also  good.

But on the whole, the new music on this soundtrack isn't very memorable.

I'm glad they included the Guaraldi music, it's some of my favorite music of the 20th century and it still sounds amazing today.  It was re-recorded by jazz pianist David Benoit who contributed music to most of the Peanuts specials produced from the late 1980s into the 2000s

The Peanuts Movie is recommended to anyone who is or has ever been a fan of Peanuts.  If you aren't a fan, this will make you want to watch more Charlie Brown animation.

One more thing:Make sure you stay through the closing credits!

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half Sparkys.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown

Premiered August 24, 1977.
Charlie Brown:I decided to come to camp, because I've never been much of a person.  I thought maybe coming to camp would help me grow up, and maybe make me into a leader.  I could use leadership qualities.
Peppermint Patty:You could say that again, Chuck.  You couldn't lead a dog on a leash.

Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) and friends visit Camp Remote, located in the mountains.

As soon as they arrive, they're harassed by three bullies (Kirk Jue, Jordan Warren and Tom Muller)  and their very aggressive cat named Brutus (Jackson Beck).

The bullies tell Chuck and Sally that they run the camp and that Charlie Brown better not step out of line.  Brutus goes after Snoopy and Woodstock (both voiced by Bill Melendez) and gives them a scare.  Thankfully, Linus (Liam Martin) intervenes with his blanket and scares the bullies away.

"Fastest blanket in the West!"
Later on, Chuck tells Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman) that he feels like he's never done anything and that he decided to go to camp because it will help him grow up and possibly teach him how to be a leader.

The boys and girls stay in separate tents.  Charlie Brown lodges in a tent with Franklin (Joseph Biter), Schroeder (Greg Felton) and Linus.

The girls' tent consists of Peppermint Patty, Lucy (Melanie Kohn), Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens) and Sally (Gail Davis).  Peppermint Patty decides that every decision of the tent will be made democratically via secret ballots.  But Peppermint Patty ends up getting her way no matter how the others vote.

The kids face off in several competitions.

First up is Tug Of War.  Charlie Brown's team faces the bullies. 

Unfortunately for Chuck, the Bullies win by cheating.

During the potato sack race, Peppermint Patty's squad is matched against the bullies. 

Once again the bullies cheat their way to victory.  They use sacks that have holes in the bottom!

The final contest is the raft river race.

The bullies have won the previous two years and are confident they'll win again.  Their "raft" has a motor, radar and sonar.  To make matters worse, they inflate it by stealing air from the other kids' rafts.  But shortly into the race, the bullies crash into a dock!  This give the other kids a chance to take the lead.

Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty's teams are doing well, but not for long.  The bullies move a sign at a fork in the river that leads the kids into a blasting range!  Thankfully, Snoopy is able to clear their path.

Shortly after that, disaster strikes.  A vicious thunder storm wrecks their rafts.  Charlie Brown worries when he can't find Snoopy and Woodstock.

The bird and the beagle are worried about each other, since they're separated during the wreck.

Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty's teams put the race aside and join forces to find Woodstock and Snoopy.

Will they find their animal friends?  Can one of their teams win the race and finally give the bullies their much-deserved comeuppance?

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown is Chuck's third feature film and it's the most visually striking so far.  Chuck and the gang are taken to places we've never seen in Peanuts animation before like Rocky Mountains, the desert, cattle farms and white water rapids.

Charlie Brown shows some development and self-awareness in this film, with his desire to grow up and become a leader.  While he does get called "blockhead" a few times, he does demonstrate a level of leadership we haven't seen before.

Schroeder brings his piano on the raft race.
There's a nice scene in the middle where the kids find a vacant cabin.  They dance together and sing "She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain."  Maybe it's a diversion from the central story, but it's nice to see them having a good time and acting like kids.

While the other kids freak out, Charlie Brown remains level-headed.
I'll mention that very little kids might find the thunder storm scenes hard to handle, since Woodstock is put in jeopardy.  It's one of the most intense moments in any Peanuts film or special.

This movie includes some interesting pop culture references.  Snoopy's motorcycle helmet is likely meant to remind us of one worn by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.  Peppermint Patty's raft flies the Women's Liberation flag, which is another nice touch.  

Snoopy encounters a somewhat goofy looking bear...
...who is apparently afraid of beagles!

Race For Your Life is not without faults.  The plot uses the "secret ballots" gag at least one time too many.  The bullies are never named.  Chuck and the others just call them "the bullies" or "those bullies," and the bullies never address each other by name.  Maybe they were supposed to be stand-ins for every real life bullies members of the audience have encountered?

The bullies trash the other kids' rafts!
I've said here before that I don't like to see adults in Charlie Brown cartoons.  But one presumes that there is some sort of adult supervision at Camp Remote.  Charlie Brown and the others find themselves in deadly scenarios more than once.  How could anyone allow the kids to compete in such a dangerous race?  And how could adults let the bullies' win by cheating over and over again?  In this regard, Race For Your Life reminds me of Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (how could adults allow kids to risk their life in the Tri-Wizard Tournament?  But I digress).

The voice actors all well cast and "sound like" the characters they're portraying.  Duncan Watson and Stuart Brotman are especially good as Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty.  The bullies are played by Kirk Jue, Jordan Warren and Tom Muller and they REALLY make you loathe the bullies and everything they do.

Brutus, the bullies' cat is voiced by Jackson Beck.

 He was a prolific voice actor on radio and cartoons from the 1930s through the 1990s.  Beck also voiced the character Brutus on a series of Popeye cartoons.  So perhaps Brutus the cat's name is something of an inside joke.

Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen composed the music for this movie and it's a very diverse score.  Scenes that feature Snoopy's motorcycle rides are punctuated by distorted electric guitar. 

The raft race is features bluegrass tunes.  Woodstock and Snoopy's explorations in the woods are accompanied by pastoral flute music.  Other music places the cello in the forefront.

Snoopy and Woodstock sail past the bullies.
Larry Finlayson sings the title song and another song later in the film.  Both songs were written by Bogas and Finlayson does a nice job handling vocal duties.  All in all, it's a good soundtrack.    

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown is entertaining and action packed from start to finish and its plot even allows Charlie Brown to (sort of) achieve a rare victory.  It's recommended, but the problems listed above prevent it from receiving a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

 3 Sparkys.