Chief Justice Michael Stailey is the poster boy for Fundamental Friend Dependability.
"No Dogs Allowed!"
The world is most familiar with the Peanuts gang from their legendary television exploits, but they did leverage their popularity into several full-length theatrical features as well. While none of them achieved the lasting impact of the comic strip or the original shorts, there is plenty to appreciate.
Linus: "Life is difficult, isn't it Charlie Brown?"
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
• Charlie Brown vs. The Kite
But that only takes us through the first 30 minutes, which is where the story takes a sharp left turn. Charlie Brown enters the All-School spelling bee, in an attempt to prove he can win at something, and with help from Linus and Snoopy's mouth harp, he rides a wave of success through to the National competition. From zero to hero in no time flat, everyone's now in Charlie's corner. Yet even in victory, Charlie Brown is tormented. Lucy anoints herself his agent. The girls deconstruct his posture, style, and grooming habits, leaving him with the message…"Return victorious Charlie Brown…or don't come back at all!" No pressure there.
This storyline then propels us through the film's remaining hour, taking the action from the comfort of the kids' neighborhood, to the mean streets of New York City. A strange juxtaposition and truly a product of its time, A Boy Named Charlie Brown takes the humor and style of the original holiday specials and juices it with all new music from Vince Guaraldi and a wealth of artistic enhancements—split screen, abstract water color montages, layered still and rotoscoped imagery, minimalist theatrical sets. In fact, the most visually arresting aspect of the film is a beautiful watercolor pastoral that evolves from Schroeder's performance of Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata for Piano. Oh, and Snoopy gets to ice skate at 30 Rock before it turns into a game of him vs. the New York Islanders…the actual New York Islanders.
In addition to pushing the boundaries in visual style, A Boy Named Charlie Brown gives composer Vince Guaraldi a chance to spread his wings as well. In addition to the aforementioned pastoral pastiche, the film contains three big musical numbers—"Failure Face" (the endless tormentation of Charlie Brown), "I Before E Except After C" (think Singin' in the Rain's "Moses Supposes" with a dash of Dr. Seuss), and "Champion Charlie Brown" (midpoint victory march). But more interestingly, the consummate jazzman Guaraldi takes this opportunity to compose entirely new music for the Peanuts gang, rather than rehash the work already done for the franchise.
Fans of the Peanuts gang both young and old deserve to see these characters play on a much larger canvas, and a A Boy Named Charlie Brown fills that need quite respectfully.
Linus: "Have you ever thought of getting another dog, Charlie
Snoopy Come Home (1972)
Spending more time away from the house and the gang, Charlie Brown grows increasingly annoyed with his dog, so much so it comes to verbal head. "What an independent dog. He comes and goes as he pleases, and I have to stay home and fix his supper." Resentment builds and, like any true friendship that grows and changes over time, the two need some time apart. Interestingly enough, the opportunity presents itself in the arrival of a mysterious letter which sends Snoopy and Woodstock packing, leaving the gang despondent, each wondering what they did to drive him away.
A distraught Charlie Brown, feeling guilty for the way he's treated Snoopy, becomes a project for his friends. Linus uses existential philosophy. Peppermint Patty uses an amusement park to win over his affections. But to truly rescue his friend from this downward spiral, Linus turns investigator and discovers a shocking secret which makes Charlie Brown feel even worse.
At the core of this emotional journey is a little girl named Lila, who holds the secret to an unknown part of Snoopy's past. On their way to see her, Snoopy and Woodstock are kidnapped by a sheltered, overly exuberant Elmyra-like girl who looks like Marci and acts like Peppermint Patty hopped up goofballs. "Rex" is subjected to an endless torture of baths, games, dress-up, tea parties, vet visits, and more. We even get a patented Scooby-Doo chase sequence, complete with multiple slamming doors. It's the one sequence people seem to remember most from Snoopy Come Home, and also serves to grind the narrative momentum to a halt. Whereas A Boy Named Charlie Brown uses the established vignette format as a lead in to their story, this film can never quite make up its mind what it wants to achieve.
For example, instead of running two parallel stories—Snoopy on the road, and the gang's life without Snoopy—and having them converge at the end, Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez cheat themselves out of a corner by having Snoopy return home briefly before leaving again. Sure, it propels the story through to its inevitable conclusion, but this could have been handled with the same care and concern as the rest of the tale. While other reviewers will spell out Snoopy and Lila's relationship for you, I won't. There's enough emotional investment here to let you discover that magic for yourself.
If not for the story, Snoopy Come Home is notable for a number reasons: the animated introduction of Woodstock and Peppermint Patty (already established characters in the comics); the only time we ever witnessed an aggravated Snoopy take out his frustrations by beating the snot out of the Van Pelt kids, Linus and Lucy (it's quite disturbing, actually); and the first Peanuts adventure not to feature music by composer Vince Guaraldi. In addition to an ever present '70s underscore from composer Dan Ralke, Snoopy Come Home is punctuated by Broadway-esque tunes from Richard and Robert Sherman (whose Disney work had all but dried up after Walt passed away). The bigger sound gave the film a completely different feel than any of the television specials and, in a way, turned out to be the zenith of the franchise.
Some might view Snoopy Come Home as the beginning of the end. The following year saw the last of the truly beloved holiday specials in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and from there it was a steady decline. Subsequent specials would abandon the narrative through-line for a collection of Schulz printed panel vignettes, and two subsequent feature films—Race for your life, Charlie Brown (1977), and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and don't come back!!) (1980)—were forgettable tales which have yet to find their way to DVD.
Presented in their original 1.85:1 theatrical widescreen aspect ratios, both films are returned to their original glory. Previous television incarnations and VHS releases suffered full frame treatment and hefty edits, but those days are over. You can now enjoy the full psychedelic color palette in all its glory, fleshed out by a robust Dolby 5.1 surround mix. Actually, These are the same prints (dull flat affect with a fair amount of dirt and scratches) used for their individual DVD release in 2006, just combined for a more attractive price point. Sadly, no new bonus features have been added, which is a shame. With the passing of creator Charles Schulz in 2000 and producer/director Bill Melendez in 2008, one would have hoped many of the behind-the-scenes stories of this franchise would have been captured for posterity.
Good grief…If you've never seen these Peanuts adventures, you're missing out.
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