Warner Bros. // 1985 // 48 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // January 27th, 2010
From the award-winning Broadway musical.
When Clark Gesner decided to build a musical around the comic strip characters in Charles Schulz's Peanuts in 1967, many thought he was reaching. A theatrical musical based on a comic strip that's so minimalist that many jokes only had a punchline reading "Sigh"? Of course, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown would become one of the most successful musicals of all time, winning awards and acclaim and running almost nonstop for decades. With such songs as "Suppertime," "Happiness Is...," and "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," it's become one of the standards of musical theater.
What this DVD proves, however, is that, even with this show's stage success, what works in one medium may not necessarily work in another. That's why you may be displeased to learn that You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown is not a recording of one of those theatrical performances, nor is it a history of the musical. Instead, it's an animated version of the musical, with a few changes and deletions. If you've never seen the musical, it gives a decent picture of what it's like, but if you're expecting an animated Peanuts special on the order of A Charlie Brown Christmas, you'll be disappointed.
There are two reasons that this isn't one of the better Peanuts specials. First, even by musical standards, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown has no plot. It's a collection of vignettes and songs randomly stitched together. There are scenes involving Valentine's Day cards and the gang playing baseball -- apparently, this takes place in the snow-free Southwest, or perhaps over several months. There's a song, then a joke, then another song, then a couple of unrelated gags, and so on, each one bookended with a fade to black. This sketchy, patchy structure, without an actual story driving it, becomes hard to watch after a while, even though the gags are sometimes taken straight from the comic strip. The other Peanuts specials, for the most part, have stories to tie all the gags together, but here the lack of plot makes it much less absorbing.
The second reason is that even though there are gags based on the comic strip, there are also moments that are peculiarly out of character to anyone who has ever read Peanuts. For instance, in one scene, Marcie, Peppermint Patty's friend, snubs Charlie Brown by not giving him a valentine. As anyone who has ever read the strip knows, Marcie has expressed her crush on Charlie Brown many times and has said that she wishes she could marry him. This random act of cruelty comes out of nowhere. Similarly, there's a scene in which Charlie Brown is agonizing over a valentine he wants to give to Lucy. Since Lucy has spent most of this special tormenting Charlie Brown, this makes no sense. In the strip, both of these moments were built around other characters, but the need to shoehorn these scenes in this one with characters that don't work makes this much less true to Schulz's vision than the other animated specials. Also, this is the first animated special to give Snoopy a voice for his thoughts. In previous shows, Snoopy's only "dialogue" consisted of giggles and grunts, but in order to recreate the musical's songs and dialogue, here Snoopy's thoughts are read aloud. It's actually much less convincing than the previous animated shows; what works in the comic strip and onstage doesn't translate so well in animation, and the voice that Robert Towers (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) uses is too twee for such a crucial character.
Warner Bros. has actually done a nice job presenting this on DVD, although it's kind of a meager package. The full-screen transfer is pristine, with vivid colors and no appreciable age damage. The Dolby mono mix is sharp as well. The only extra is a brief featurette, "Animating a Charlie Brown Musical" (14:42). It does give some history on how the musical was originally written and how this special was adapted. It would have been a good idea, though, to include some clips from a performance of the musical itself to give viewers an idea of what it looked like onstage.
If anything, it might have better to release this show as part of an overall collection with possibly a complete stage performance of the musical, because as a standalone release, it's just not that compelling. It's certainly not in the same league as the classic earlier Peanuts specials and, while you'll get an idea for what the musical sounds like, you could just as well do so by listening to one of the cast albums. Hardcore Peanuts collectors will want this, but everyone else might want to just give this one a preview.
Guilty of not living up to the high standards of previous Peanuts specials.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
Running Time: 48 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated