Friday, October 9, 2015

This Is America, Charlie Brown:The Birth of the Constitution

Premiered October 28, 1988.
Charlie Brown:Just what's this convention all about, Linus?
Linus:Well, the way I understand it, for the past 10 years, our country has been run under the rules of something called the Articles of Confederation.  But things haven't worked out too well.
Charlie Brown:They haven't?

Dateline:Philadelphia, May 25 1787.  A delegation of various officials from all 13 states have gathered for a Constitutional Convention.

Charlie Brown watches George Washington arrive in Philadelphia.
Linus (Jeremy Miller) gets Charlie Brown (Jason Riffle) and Sally (Christina Lange) to the Pennsylvania State House to clean it up before the delegates arrive.  Linus assigns duties to all of the kids.  Peppermint Patty (Jason Mendelson) and Marcie (Keri Houlihan) are tasked with bringing water to the delegates.  Snoopy (Bill Melendez) serves as their watchdog, guarding the secret convention from the public.

Lucy's (Ami Foster) job is to mop the floors.  She's not happy about that.  Sally has to keep ink wells filled.  Chuck is the "outside man," in charge of cleaning outside and "valet parking."  Linus works as an usher and also informs the other kids about what's happening inside the convention.

Linus explains that the purpose of the convention is to create a new form of government for the states.  The Articles Of Confederation have been the law of the land since the end of the revolution, but a new direction is needed.  He tells his friends that the delegates have a myriad of views about which form of government is best.  Some of the men want a strong central government, others believe the states should have more power, some want a king to head the new nation.

Linus explains the purpose of the convention.
During the delegates' deliberation, Linus is the only kid who gets to listen in person.  The convention if filled with many intense debates.  Roger Sherman doesn't want the new House of Representatives to be elected directly by the people.  Others, such as George Mason and James Madison disagree with Sherman

Delegates engage in a debate at the Constitutional Convention.
Debate about the country's chief executive is equally spirited.  Some advocate for a strong head of state, others argue for 3 heads of state, and other delegates favor an executive who carries out the will of the legislature.  Linus tells Peppermint Patty and Marcie that the delegates seem to disagree about everything.  He worries that if the delegates can't find compromise the whole convention will be a failure.

Outside the meeting hall, Charlie Brown spends his free time creating new games.  One such activity involves hitting a ball with a stick and running to a tree before Lucy can retrieve the ball.  Lucy says it's a dumbest game she's ever heard of.

Weeks go by and turn into months and the delegates still can't reach agreements.  The deliberations drag on into mid-September.  Will they finally reach an agreement and create a new Constitution?

Plus, Charlie Brown lends his kite to Benjamin Franklin!

This Birth Of The Constitution is a good special, but it works better as entertainment than history.  For instance, the story takes place in 1787 and we see Ben Franklin conduct his kite-electricity experiment.  Franklin published his account of this experiment in 1752, not during the Constitutional Convention (recent research indicates that he might not have actually conducted the experiment himself, but that's another story).

Woodstock & Snoopy clown around in powdered wigs.
 We see lots of debates during the Constitutional Convention.  But with the exception of Franklin and George Washington, we are never told anything about the other delegates or who they are.  Sure, when one of them is identified as "Mr. Madison," it's easy to figure out that it's James Madison.

But who is "Mr. Wilson?"  How many school kids (or adults, for that matter) could tell you that he was James Wilson of Pennsylvania (who also served in the Continental Congress and was one of the first Supreme Court Justices)?  When I was a kid, this sort of thing would have bothered me.
Having said that, I believe The Birth Of The Constitution could be useful to little kids as an introduction to an important moment in the history of the United States. 

Peppermint Patty writes a letter to her grandmother.
I generally don't like to see adults present in Charlie Brown animation.  I'm not crazy about their appearances here, but I'll make some allowances for This Is America, since it's meant to be educational.

Perhaps the best history shown in The Birth Of The Constitution is Charlie Brown's daily life.  We see him and Snoopy performing tons of daily tasks, inside the house and out on the land.  Chuck complains that working is all he ever does.  I figure the creative team wanted to show how much manual labor the average kids had to do in 1787.

In spite of its historical shortcomings, this is still an entertaining special.  It's fun to see Charlie Brown and the others interact in a story set in the 18th century.  Chuck's "invention" of modern sports is fun to watch, as is the predictable result when he asks Lucy to hold a ball for him to kick.

As usual, Snoopy and Woodstock get a few moments of humor.  They even get to reenact Washington's crossing of the Delaware River.

The voice actors are all well-cast and do a solid job performing their characters.  

After Vince Guaraldi died, the Peanuts specials shifted away from piano jazz soundtrack music and the creative team hired new composers.  This Is America, Charlie Brown returned Chuck and his friends to their "jazz roots."

Pianist George Winston handles the soundtrack duties here, it includes some new tunes and some nice re-recordings of Vince Guaraldi's music.  Winston plays a nice harpsichord version of "Linus And Lucy."  He also performs piano jazz arrangements of 18th Century patriotic songs like "Yankee Doodle."

A nice musical surprise is the inclusion of "Cast Your Fate To The Wind."  For those who don't know, this was Guaraldi's breakthrough recording, released on his 1962 album Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus.  If you're not familiar with this tune, give it a listen here:

The Birth Of The Constitution is the first time "Cast Your Fate To Wind" appeared on a Charlie Brown special.  Winston's performance of the tune plays during a spirited debate between delegates and it works nicely in this context.

This special is available on dvd and also can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes.

After the delegates reach an agreement, Linus reads the Preamble to the other kids.
This Is America Charlie Brown:The Birth Of The Constitution is a good special with a bit of educational value and some great piano (and harpsichord) music, but it's not up there with the classics.


2 and a half Sparkys.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown

Premiered October 30, 1981.
Charlie Brown:I've fallen in love!
Linus:The trouble with you Charlie Brown is that you fall in love all the time.  Every week you fall in love!
Charlie Brown:Not this time, this is different.  There won't be another time like this time ever.  I can't go through life knowing that somewhere there's a girl meant for me and that I never got to meet her.

Charlie Brown (Grant Wehr) and Linus (Rocky Reilly) are watching a football game on television.  The TV camera pans the crowd in the stadium and and a girl appears on the screen in a "honey shot."  Chuck sees her and immediately tells Linus he's fallen in love with the girl.

He decides he will do anything to meet her and begins searching the next day.  Linus agrees to help him, Snoopy (Bill Melendez) and Woodstock (Melendez) accompany the boys on their search.

Their first stop is the stadium, since Charlie Brown remembers the section where the girl was sitting. The stadium staff doesn't know who sat there, so they direct the boys to the season ticket office.

That leads them to a house where the ticket holders live.  Chuck is too shy to go to the door and asks Linus to do it.  A girl (Nicole Eggert) answers the door and she's interested when Linus tells her Charlie Brown has a crush on her.  Chuck signals to Linus that this is the wrong girl.  The boys learn that this girl was not at the game, but a relative used her family's tickets.

They visit the relative's house.  For the second time, Charlie Brown gets Linus to do the talking.  Once again, they find a girl, but not the right girl.  This girl (Melissa Strawmeyer) is a teenager, much older than the girl Chuck saw on TV.  This girl is also interested when she hears someone is in love with her, but she tells them to take off when she sees Charlie Brown is a "little kid."

Before they depart, the teen girl gives them another lead.  She says they should visit Happy Valley Farm, which is out in the country.  Charlie Brown is ready to give up, but Linus talks him into continuing the quest.

When Chuck and friends arrive at Happy Valley, They encounter a rather fierce bobcat!

Linus eventually knocks on the door and a girl (Jennifer Gaffin) answers.  Charlie Brown recognizes her from the game and tries to signal to Linus.  But Linus is too distracted when he realizes this girl also has a security blanket!

We learn her name is Mary Jo and they hit it off immediately.  Chuck signals that this is the girl he saw on television, but Linus is oblivious and is invited into Mary Jo's home.  Charlie Brown waits outside, hoping Linus is telling Mary Jo about him.

Will Linus tell Mary Jo how Charlie Brown feels about her?  Will Charlie Brown summon up the courage to tell her himself?

I'll just cut to the chase and say this is the weakest Charlie Brown special I've seen since I started this blog.  Charlie Brown comes off as borderline creepy and obsessed in Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown.

Is it believable that someone could fall "in love" with someone they saw for a few seconds and hadn't even met?  Yes, but it would have been a good time for Linus (usually the most introspective member of the Peanuts cast) to explain the difference between love and infatuation.  Linus briefly mentions that Chuck falls "in love every week," but that's the only nod to sanity here.

It's also somewhat disturbing to hear Charlie Brown use the phrase "honey shot."  If you've never heard of that before, a honey shot is a term used in sports broadcasting for closeups of attractive women in the crowd.  This first came to prominence in football games in the 1970s, most notably on Monday Night Football.

Making matters worse, the only regular Peanuts cast members featured are Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock.   I love those characters, but part of the fun of these specials is watching them interact with other characters.  We don't get to see Sally, no Peppermint Patty, No Lucy, no Schroeder, etc.

Around the time this special first aired, I remember several Charlie Brown specials that featured appearances by adults.  Someday You'll Find Her gives us this scene:

The inclusion of adults adds nothing but distraction.  Charles Schulz once told an interviewer that having adults show up would "bring everything back to reality."  Once the adults were seen onscreen, it made me wonder how Charlie Brown's parents would feel about the boys going way out in the country by themselves?  Would they be worried?  Linus and Chuck also encounter a teenager, who also seems out of place in the Peanuts universe.

There's a bit of a plot hole in Someday You'll Find Her.  When the boys arrive at Happy Valley Farm, Snoopy and Woodstock are already there.  Charlie Brown is surprised and wonders what they're doing out in the country.  How did they get there?  How did they learn the girl from the game lived at Happy Valley?

But it's not all bad.  The animation is excellent in this special, very vibrant for a special that was produced three decades ago.  Snoopy's fight with the bobcat gives us some great action scenes.

And the beagle also has some funny scenes where he attempts to navigate a cattle guard.

Near the end of the special, Charlie Brown walks home alone heartbroken in a dreamlike state.  The animation switches to a beautiful watercolor style.

Snoopy and Woodstock have some funny scenes together at the football stadium, playing football and "working out" in the weight room.

Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen composed the music heard in this special.  The soundtrack for Someday You'll Find Her features various genres of music.  The scenes at the football stadium are accompanied by a tune that sounds like a college fight song.  The bobcat attacks feature electric guitar music.  This soundtrack won't make you forget about Vince Guaraldi, but it's pretty good, with one exception.  Near the end of the special, when a dejected Chuck is walking home, the scene is accompanied by a sappy "easy listening" ballad.

This special has been released twice on dvd.  It's a bonus feature on A Charlie Brown Valentine and has been recently released on a set called The Peanuts Emmy Honored Collection.  It's also available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon.

Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown gives us a Charlie Brown who isn't very sympathetic and a limited cast that isn't a lot of fun to watch.  The watercolor animation and the Snoopy/Woodstock scenes save it from a lower rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 Sparkys

Friday, October 2, 2015

Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown

 Premiered March 29, 2011.

"I can't get rid of this blanket!  It's the only thing that keeps me going!
 -Linus Van Pelt
(Note from J.A. Morris:The Peanuts comic strip debuted 65 years ago today.  The special reviewed here today has a connection to that first strip, as you will see below)

Linus Van Pelt (Austin Lux) is very attached to his security blanket, never letting it out of his grasp.  His sister Lucy (Grace Rolek) is fed up with the blanket and tells Linus he needs to give it up.

Lucy has some bad news for Linus:Their grandmother is coming to visit and she is determined to rid Linus of his blanket.  He has seven days to break his "addiction" to the blanket.

At the same time, Snoopy (Andrew Beall) is determined to steal the blanket for himself and drags Linus around the neighborhood several times. 

Linus gives the blanket to Charlie Brown (Trenton Rogers) and asks that he keep it, no matter how desperate he becomes.  This lasts for several seconds, before Linus takes back the blanket.  When Linus goes to his sister's psychiatric clinic for help, Lucy yells at him and tells him to "grow up!"

Lucy reaches her limit and takes the blanket away, telling Linus he can have it back after dinner.  Within a little while, his "whole nervous system" is shot.

Lucy catches her brother using Snoopy's ear and other objects as a substitute for the blanket.  She then tells Linus that "no substitutes" are allowed either.

Will Linus give up the blanket?  Will his grandmother force him to get rid of it?


Happiness Is A Warm Blanket was the first Peanuts special produced without the involvement of Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez.  The five years between this and the previous special also mark the longest time between specials.

Charles Schulz' son Craig served as a writer and executive producer on Happiness, with some story assistance from Stephan Pastis (creator of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine).  But most of the story and dialogue are taken directly from Peanuts comic strips.

This new creative team made a conscious effort to make the characters act and look like they did in the late 50s and early 60s.  They also used the cast from the earlier era as well, so we get to appearances from Patty (Ciara Bravo), Shermy (Andy Pessoa) and Violet (Blesst Bowden) plus cameos from 3, 4 and 5.

We get a "Snoopy's-eye view" of 5 and his twin siblings 3 and 4.
When Linus asks Chuck if he has fears and frustrations, Chuck flashes back to unpleasant moments in his past.  This includes a scene where Shermy says "Good ol' Charlie Brown.  How I hate him!" This is a reenactment of the very first Peanuts comic strip, which is another nice touch.  So Pastis and Schulz bring lots of nostalgia to this special.

Lucy mellowed over time in both the specials and comic strip.  But the Lucy we see in Happiness is her earlier, meaner self.  Throughout this special she takes pleasure at threatening to take away Linus' blanket and actually punches Charlie Brown when he calls her "crabby."

This might surprise some views, so consider yourself warned.  I won't spoil the ending, but at the end, Lucy shows that she's not quite as cruel as she seems.

Even Sally (Amanda Pace) get's tired of her Sweet Baboo's blanket & tosses it into a tree.
 On a lighter note, we get a touching scene where Charlie Brown sits up all night to help Linus deal with the loss of his blanket.  We often see these two ostracized by the other kids, so it's nice to see that they're not "alone" in the world.

In between the scenes about the blanket, we get short vignettes that deal with Chuck's attempt to fly a kite, Violet critiquing Pigpen's cleanliness and Lucy vying for Schroeder's attention.

The only problem with taking an "oldschool" approach is that we don't get to see characters that were introduced later like Peppermint Patty, Franklin and Marcie.  Charles Schulz said he stopped including Violet and Patty in the strip because they were less interesting than Pepperment Patty, so I'm not sure why this was done.  Otherwise, Happiness Is A Warm Blanket is lots of fun.

The actors in this special all do a good job voicing their characters.  Happiness centers on Linus and Austin Lux does a nice job carrying the story.  Grace Rolek is very convincing when she delivers Lucy's hostile dialogue.  Trenton Rogers does double-duty voicing Charlie Brown and Schoeder.  It's a credit to Rogers that I didn't notice this until I read the credits.

The music of Happiness Is A Warm Blanket was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh.  He's composed music for dozens of films and TV shows and won awards, including an Oscar nomination last year for The Lego Movie soundtrack.  Mothersbaugh first gained fame as the lead singer and songwriter of the band Devo. 

Mark Mothersbaugh, at the 2015 Oscars, wearing a "Devo" hat made of Legos!
His music pays homage to Vince Guaraldi's tunes without ripping off Guaraldi.  While most of the music is piano-based, Pigpen's (Shane Baumel) scenes are accompanied by music that puts the harmonica at the forefront.

 This special is available on blu-ray, dvd.  It also may be streamed on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown is a very good special with nice music and good voice actors.  It's too bad that the personnel involved with its production didn't make any more TV specials, since this one should lots of promise.

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half Sparkys.