I grew up on the Peanuts creations of Charles M. Schulz. Most of us have, in some way or another. His newspaper comic strip is one of the longest running and most successful strips of all time. The work has been translated into every language currently spoken on the planet. The images of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and the rest of the Peanuts gang have appeared on just about any kind of product imaginable. Our pop culture contains too many references to the strip to mention briefly. For me, it was the television specials starting in the mid 1960’s that brought the gang into my life. The classics are running annually, still after nearly 50 years. A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are the most mentioned and certainly beloved by generations of children and adults. I thought I never missed an airing.
Now Paramount has provided a 4-film collection that takes us back to those early films that were made at around the time the holiday specials were being enjoyed around the world. Two of the films have never been on Blu-ray before, and while there are no real extras they made the smart move of providing each film on its own disc so that the films have bandwidth in which to breathe. These are old films with plenty of flaws, but at least here we’re given a real chance to get the best versions that are possible to get today. Here are the films you get:
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
The film begins with a montage of events that have become requisite moments throughout the history of these animated adventures. We get Charlie Brown’s frustration trying to fly a kite, a baseball game with Charlie Brown on a dandelion-covered pitcher’s mound, Snoopy fighting the Red Barron on his doghouse, and Lucy tempting Charlie Brown to kick the football that she always pulls away at the last moment. Every one of these moments are iconic parts of the original comic strip and the entire history of the animated films and television specials and episodes.
The main story thread finds Charlie Brown pretty much frustrated with his life and perceived inability to get anything right. It all changes when Lucy builds his confidence to the point where he wins the school’s spelling bee. Of course, Lucy has signed on as his manager and hopes to get a cut of whatever his newfound success might bring. But Charlie Brown is always fated to fail in the end and just loses the championship spelling bee. No thanks to his faithful beagel … I mean beagle, Snoopy.
There’s plenty to like here, but the film often gets bogged down in musical scenes that tend to run too long and test the patience of the audience.
This was the first of the original five animated features and is now often confused with a later documentary also called A Boy Named Charlie Brown from five years earlier.
Snoopy Come Home (1972)
This film is notable as the first animated appearances of both Woodstock and Franklin. They had been on the published comic strip but never before on an animated feature or special. Woodstock became a particularly important character as he becomes Snoopy’s best friend and the two of them have adventures that don’t involve any humans in the story.
Snoopy becomes aggravated by all of the “No Dogs Allowed” signs he has been encountering. He gets a letter from a girl named Lila, who has been in the hospital for several weeks. She tells him she’s lonely. So Snoopy, already fed up with the dog restrictions, sets out with his pal on a journey to the hospital. They get kidnapped by a lonely girl who wants them for her pets and run into other kinds of little adventures along the way. Of course, Charlie Brown is beside himself and doesn’t understand why or where his dog has gone or if he’s even ever coming home. We learn that Snoopy had another owner before Charlie Brown, and now Snoopy’s sad because he needs to chose between them. It’s an old aggravation that saves the day and brings Snoopy back home to stay.
This film had far more songs than any other of the animated features. They brought in the Sherman Brothers, who provided so many childhood memories for the likes of me. They wrote pretty much all of the Disney songs from the 40’s through the 70’s. Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Winnie The Pooh features are all from the Sherman Brothers. It was a great decision and leads to some familiar kind of songs.
Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
There was some tragedy as this film was being made. Vince Guarldi passed away and could not offer more of his iconic Peanuts music. He wrote the original theme and all of the music for the holiday specials. His Linus’s Theme is one of the most recognizable melodies in the world. This would be the first Peanuts project where he would not contribute something new. Of course, many of his themes are still here.
Charlie Brown and the gang go to camp. They run into a pack of bullies who are used to running the camp. They have always won the camp competitions and taunt the gang from the moment they arrive. We soon discover they win through cheating and take every contest. The last and biggest contest is the raft race. The Peanuts gang split into three groups. The boys’ team consists of Charlie Brown, Linus, Schroeder, and Franklin. Pig Pen kind of appears and disappears without any real explanation. The girls team is made up of Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Sally. Violet also appears and disappears. Patty attempts to run the group by democratic secret ballots but retains the tie-breaking power. Snoopy and Woodstock make up the third team. The film follows their adventures on the river, where they get lost and encounter a few scares along the way. The season seems to sift from short-sleeved summer to blizzard winter at the drop of a hat.
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown… And Don’t Come Back (1980)
by J.P. Anderson
Charlie Brown and his gang of friends are at it again; this time the crew must go to France for a foreign exchange program. Before his journey begins, Charlie Brown receives a strange letter from France telling him to come and stay at a chateau. Little does Charlie Brown know, he is going to an infamous chateau in this small French community, which is notorious for not allowing visitors. Charlie Brown and Linus sleep outside in a stable with no sign of anyone actually living at this place, but they are still provided food each morning by some unknown entity. It is up to Charlie Brown to find out who this person is, and why he has been forced into sleeping under such conditions.
It would really behoove audience members to do some research on this certain Peanuts installment rather than going in blind. It put a new perspective on the film for me after reading some articles about it, and made me rethink a few of my points. For instance, this is the fourth and final Peanuts movie that was overseen by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. This lets me know that I might expect some different behavior from certain characters or different tones in general. One such occurrence came when I actually heard the voices of the teachers, rather than the classic “wa-wa-wa” that was used for their voices prior. It was also nice to know that this movie served as an epilogue for an episode called What Have We Learned Charlie Brown? which I reviewed in a Peanuts collection prior to this.
With all of that in mind, let’s talk about how good this movie is. Classic jokes that we are used to seeing from the Peanuts are in full force here, like when we are treated to a scene of Charlie Brown trying to figure out how to get a baguette through a door that is too small. He goes to get his bread, walks out the door, the bread breaks in the doorway. He gets another loaf of bread, gets it out to the group’s car, and Snoopy slams the car’s hood on a section of the bread, causing Charlie Brown to become dismayed. Snoopy is still the most interesting dog in the world, even more so in this movie. In the span of the film we find out that he has a membership to Wimbledon, only flies first class, and has a very eclectic music taste. Speaking of the music, a lot of the songs in this are accented more than any other parts of the movie. We are treated to a very drawn out scene of Snoopy crying/dancing at a Sports Bar when he plays songs on the jukebox. Luckily the music is good. Very classic, and fits well in a cartoon genre by having a distinct tone. If the music is meant to make you happy it will be more up tempo, sad will be lower tempo, and if it is meant to be awe-inspiring it will have lyrics. I also liked how fitting an end this seemed for Charles Schulz. The ending of this movie has Charlie Brown portrayed as a hero. Throughout all of this series Charlie Brown is thought to be the outcast, a blockhead, hopeless, or just outright troubled, but here he gets to rise above that stigma. It does my heart good to see Charlie Brown win once.
Some moments might raise questions like: why is Peppermint Patty part of an exchange program when she proves to be a bad student in class? If audience members can remember that this is a show in which portrays a dog that drives a car, plays tennis, and makes elaborate disguises, I think those questions won’t pose a problem.
Remember when I said the words “sports bar” earlier in the review? Well, that’s something that is actually related to the bad column as well. This movie is definitely showing its age in certain scenes; one in particular is at the beginning of the film where a mysterious figure is seen leaving the sports bar and getting into his car. This isn’t a value that parents would like shown in cartoons today, and if this was shown in a cartoon today the cartoon in question would most likely be cancelled swiftly after. This isn’t the only scene that shows some major age-defining moments. While on the plane to France, Snoopy is sitting in first class to find that Woodstock has hitched a ride in his carry-on bags. The two rejoice, but Snoopy hears a flight attendant coming in his direction and must hide Woodstock in an ashtray since no better places are available. This isn’t necessarily an inappropriate scene for children like the aforementioned, but since all ashtrays on flights are welded shut for commercial airlines, I sincerely doubt anyone from the upcoming generation is going to know about its original purpose. If you mix this with extremely dated animation, then I doubt that you can get any child seriously interested in the series based solely on this movie.
In the end, this is a definitive piece to any Peanuts fan’s collection. It won’t appeal very highly to children of today’s day and age, but there are plenty of moments to keep true fans happy.
This film provides the only extra with a 20-minute behind-the-scenes feature.
It’s another groundbreaking collection of timeless cartoons, Charlie Brown. Certainly a couple of these are a letdown, but not because they are bad pieces at all. The bar was set so high with the first specials that expectations are so much higher for these stories. All of your favorites are there. Don’t even think about passing it up. You don’t get all of the animated films here. There’s one missing from this run and there are several from later eras. You’re going to have to wait for the next release to relive all of those memories. “Good Grief!”