For years, Judge Jeff Robbins labored under the misapprehension that he was Charlie Brown's dog.
"He doesn't need a career. His career is being my dog."—Charlie Brown
The beloved Peanuts comic strip didn't always translate successfully to television. Those needing proof of that fact need look no further than He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown and the supporting cartoon included on this release, Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown.
Facts of the Case
In He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, the misbehaving Snoopy is getting on everyone's nerves, but a trip to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for some much-needed disciplinary training never gets further than a planned overnight stop at Peppermint Patty's. In Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown, Snoopy's attraction to a performing poodle spurs the beagle's transformation into "Hugo the Great," a star circus performer.
To mark what would have been his 70th birthday, this month has seen the reissue of most of John Lennon's solo albums. While impressive in scope, what the massive reissue campaign can't hide is the fact that Lennon only produced two excellent post-Beatle albums with the others falling anywhere from decent to annoying.
That too is the legacy of the much-loved series of Peanuts television specials. There's a lot of them (53 at my count), but only a couple of them, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, stand out as classics. Unfortunately, that label cannot be applied to either of the programs included on this release.
The problem here is Snoopy. Like Three's Company's Larry Dallas or The Office's Creed Branton, Snoopy is a character that has always worked best in small doses. The heart of Charles Schulz's comic strip has undoubtedly always been Charlie Brown, the character that Schulz created and developed by drawing on his own experiences, fears, and insecurities. Unfortunately, both He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (25:05) and Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown (24:15) push Snoopy to the forefront at the expense of Charlie Brown and the strip's other characters.
The difficulties with relying too much on Snoopy are compounded in the TV specials: In the comic strip, we are allowed to read Snoopy's thoughts, which are often very funny while also providing a unique perspective into the Peanuts universe. Unfortunately, in the TV specials, Snoopy's character is limited to his body language and some nonsensical gibberish (voiced by producer-director Bill Melendez), which makes the decision to focus on him even more troublesome.
So by pushing the emotional center of the cast aside to spotlight a character known for comic relief, these shows are at least funny, right? Wrong. As someone who grew up heavily embracing "Peanuts," it pains me to say that there are many more laughs in a typical episode of SpongeBob SquarePants than there are in these specials.
Produced in 1968, the featured cartoon He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, is clearly the better of these two programs. Snoopy's anti-social behavior is funny, particularly when he unexpectedly and without provocation simply hauls off and kicks the pretentious Schroeder in the butt. But the story here is paper-thin, and the sight gags of Snoopy doing chores at Peppermint Patty's house (which allow the producers to reuse the same animation segments numerous times) go on way too long.
The resolution here is also bizarre: Charlie Brown and his friends decide
they miss Snoopy so much that they beg him to return even though he never
undergoes the added training they originally thought he so badly needed. It
would be more satisfying if Snoopy did something to win over Charlie Brown
(score him a hot date with the little red-haired girl, perhaps), but his bad
behavior is simply forgiven and he is allowed to return to the fold unimproved
and unchanged. (Hardly a moral likely to please many parents.)
Besides Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown, there is one other bonus feature included here, and it's a good one, a 2010 featurette entitled Snoopy's Home Ice: The Story of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena. At 22:01, it's a bit overlong, but it's a well-produced piece that details the history of the skating rink in Santa Rosa, California, that Charles Schulz and his first wife Joyce had constructed in 1969. Just as interesting as the story of the ice arena itself is the featurette's inclusion of home movies and old photographs of Schulz that make clear the cartoonist's love of ice hockey and ice skating, an aspect of Schulz's life that I was not fully aware of. Although Schulz's son Craig and second wife Jean are interviewed, a crucial omission is Joyce Schulz, who had the original idea to build the ice rink and by all accounts took initial charge of the business. Though Snoopy's Home Ice has absolutely nothing to do with the two cartoons included on this release, the piece is well worth checking out for all Schulz fans.
The bonus featurette Snoopy's Home Ice is notable because it is shot in widescreen and looks terrific. The cartoons are in their original full-frame aspect ratio and also look quite impressive. The fact that the 1968 feature looks as good as the 1980 program may mean that Warner simply didn't do as thorough a job of restoring Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown, but given the greater historical value of He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown, that's unlikely to cause many complaints. Meanwhile, the mono sound of the cartoons is faithful to their original television presentation, but hardly impressive here on DVD.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
How often does a 30-minute cartoon keep your toes a-tapping as much as He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown? Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi's score is completely infectious; unfortunately, his 1976 death prevented him from contributing to Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown.
At a list price of $19.98, it's very hard to recommend He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown. Not only does the main feature fall flat, it has already been released in "remastered" form on the far superior Peanuts 1960s Collection that also includes the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, this feature, and three others for just ten bucks more. Assuming that Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown will be included on any forthcoming Peanuts 1980s Collection, the only reason to get this release is for the Snoopy's Home Ice featurette, which won't interest any younger viewers. Therefore, this release of He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown is for Peanuts and Schulz completists only.
Snoopy is guilty of taking advantage of Charlie Brown and Warner Home Video is guilty of taking advantage of Peanuts fans. Interested parties are advised to stick with the far-superior Peanuts 1960s Collection.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Bonus Episode
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