It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984, Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes)

It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown has to be seen to be believed… but also doesn’t need to be seen at all. The special is a Peanuts-riff on… Flashdance. Like, Snoopy saw Flashdance and has become inspired to go out dancing until dawn every night. Meanwhile the Peanuts kids are into dancing now too. Though their dancing is themed–i.e. Peppermint Patty leads an aerobics dance, which makes sense, Charlie Brown leads a hoedown, which doesn’t, Lucy does a “Lucy Says” directional song… set to Hey Ricky. It’s all very, very, very weird.

But also not particularly good. There are a few funny bits–but there’s not a lot of story; the kids have a dance party and Snoopy and Woodstock are messing around with the punch. Only Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) sees what’s happening. It’s funny. It’s also nowhere near enough to make Flashbeagle anything more than an oddity.

Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes’s direction is fine. On the non-musical number parts, it’s downright good. And while the musical numbers are extravagantly produced and well-animated, they don’t dazzle. The original songs are synth-poppy, which gets annoying fast. I suppose the special’s also of interest because it shows a lot of adults (out clubbing, before they step aside so Snoopy can get down to his theme song… which kids listen to on boomboxes at one point).

It’s weird. Flashbeagle is very weird.

Not weird enough to be worth a look though. The acting is fine. Johnson’s not particularly impressive as Charlie Brown, but Fergie’s good as Sally. Gini Holtzman is an all right Peppermint Patty, even if her song is astoundingly obnoxious.

Somehow Fleshbeagle itself isn’t obnoxious. Just… strange.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley, Chuck McCann, and Richard C. Allen; music by Desirée Goyette and Ed Bogas; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Fergie (Sally Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


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Tumbleweeds (1999, Gavin O’Connor)

Despite excellent lead performances, Tumbleweeds is almost entirely inert–dramatically speaking. Janet McTeer is a thirtysomething single mom with bad taste in men who drags tween daughter Kimberly J. Brown all around the country after her latest romance goes bad. The romances never go too bad because McTeer has a preternatural ability to stay away from physically abusive partners. For example, the film starts with McTeer and (uncredited) beau Noah Emmerich getting into–oh, yeah, McTeer moves in with every guy and marries many of them–but they’re getting into a big fight where it seems like Emmerich is about to hit her, but never does. He’s just an angry, break everything drunk. Meanwhile Brown is preparing her wordly possessions for she and McTeer’s imminent departure.

They’re apparently always in lousy situations, but never dangerous ones, which ends up contributing to the eventual lack of dramatic impact. If director O’Connor were capable of a lyrical type narrative, it’d be fine. He’s not. But more on that deficiency in a bit.

So after McTeer and Brown leave Emmerich punching his kitchen appliances and watching TV, Tumbleweeds becomes a road movie. McTeer wants to go to Arizona (they’re from the South, all over); Brown doesn’t. Eventually they agree on San Diego. Well, McTeer eventually agrees with Brown. It’s Brown’s idea. They have some misadventures–but nothing too dangerous or dire–before getting there. They don’t get to San Diego until about halfway through the film. The first half is a meandering road movie, the second half has none of the same stylistic choices. By stylistic choices I guess I mean O’Connor’s proclivity for occasional shaky camerawork to show… well, to show nothing, really. Except to diss Dan Stoloff’s otherwise perfectly competent photography.

Once they arrive in San Diego–actually a smaller city near San Diego, but on the water–Brown gets enrolled in school (at just the right moment because it seems like McTeer could care less about it until that point) and makes friends and McTeer gets a new job. In comes the supporting cast. There’s Ashley Buccille as Brown’s friend from drama class (and Cody McMains as the annoying boy who likes her) while McTeer starts working for weird (but not too weird) creep (but harmlessly) Michael J. Pollard and makes friends with coworker Laurel Holloman. Pretty soon McTeer has a kismet moment with a new dude–director O’Connor, whose blasé performance basically relegates Tumbleweeds to that dramatic inertia–much to Brown’s disapproval.

McTeer moves them in with O’Connor, with Brown knowingly anticipating the relationship’s eventual failure. Meanwhile she’s trying out for Romeo and Juliet at school, much to soon-to-be-ex-bestie Buccille’s chagrin (there can be only one Juliet, after all), especially since McTeer’s afore unmentioned coworker Jay O. Sanders coaches Brown on her performance. Because he’s just the type of great guy McTeer would never go for.

Drama does not ensue.

The script, by O’Connor and Angela Shelton, is anti-melodramatic but also entirely unrealistic in its cockeyed reality. McTeer, despite working menial jobs, is never wanting for money. Both she and O’Connor go through too short unemployment arcs; apparently everyone’s got a lot of rainy day savings in Tumbleweeds. They have to have them, because otherwise things might actually get a little intense or dangerous and there’s no intensity or danger in Tumbleweeds. It’s gritty… ish, because low budget, and never because of narrative. There’s some “gritty” dialogue–Holloman’s lengthy description of coffee enemas is exceptionally pointless–but the film avoids all its confrontational moments. Besides the opening one where Baumbach decides he’ll be a verbally abusive drunken bastard but he’s got his limits. Tumbleweeds is a poser when it comes to the dark realities of humanity.

Luckily, the performances are mostly phenomenal. McTeer, Brown, and Sanders are all amazing. Though Sanders’s material is mostly pat. And outside the character relationship stuff with McTeer and Brown they don’t get much either. All the important narrative developments happen off-screen (once it becomes clear O’Connor, as actor, is never going to be too abusive or too dangerous; it kind of works since his performance is just as shallow as his character). Pollard’s fine in an extended cameo. Holloman is good with a nothing role. Lois Smith shows up for a bit. She gets even less of a role than Pollard. Kids Buccille and McMains are fine. Again, since important narrative developments are discussed in exposition, they don’t need to be any better.

If it weren’t for McTeer and Brown and their performances, Tumbleweeds would fizzle (Sanders is gravy). But they’re great, so it doesn’t. The script’s just not there, O’Connor (both as actor and director) isn’t there. Sure, the movie’s low budget, but… if O’Connor were a better director (and writer) it wouldn’t matter. The film’s got zero ambitions. Thank goodness the cast has some.

The six to nine endings don’t help things either.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gavin O’Connor; screenplay by O’Connor and Angela Shelton, based on a story by Shelton; director of photography, Dan Stoloff; edited by John Gilroy; music by David Mansfield; production designer, Bryce Holtshousen; produced by Greg O’Connor; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Janet McTeer (Mary Jo Walker), Kimberly J. Brown (Ava Walker), Gavin O’Connor (Jack Ranson), Jay O. Sanders (Dan Miller), Laurel Holloman (Laurie Pendleton), Michael J. Pollard (Mr. Cummings), Ashley Buccille (Zoe Broussard), Cody McMains (Adam Riley), and Lois Smith (Ginger).


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What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983, Bill Melendez)

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is exceedingly intense. It doesn’t start intense, though it does start a little different. There’s this gradual shot–with Judy Munsen’s lovely score accompanying–moving through all the toys in Charlie Brown’s house before it gets to his bookshelf. The books with visible spines are heady classic novels; but Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten) is getting down his picture album. He’s got to put in some snapshots from his trip to France–Learned is direct sequel, time-wise not tone-wise, to the theatrical Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown–and Sally comes over to ask what he’s doing. So he tells her about the events of his trip after the movie.

His recounting starts as comedy. It’s Charlie Brown, Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg), Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas), Marcie (Michael Dockery), and Snoopy and Woodstock. Snoopy is driving because when it’s a bunch of eight year-olds without adult supervision, it’s best to let the beagle drive. Even if he does get into multiple accidents throughout the special. After Snoopy wrecks the car and gets into a fight with a flock of ducks, the kids have to rent another one. Good thing Marcie speaks French (she’s the only one who does).

Up to this point, Learned is well-produced–great animation, excellent direction from Melendez, that Munsen music, and a strong script from Charles M. Schulz–but nothing particularly special. Then the kids camp out for the night and Linus realizes they’re on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. He goes down to the beach and, through rotoscoping, “sees” the D-Day invasion. The rotoscoping colorizes the black and white footage with bold, bright colors, creating a wonderful tonal contrast between the Peanuts kids’ adventure and the history they’re encountering.

Once the other kids wake up, Linus tells them where they are and all about D-Day. They explore the area, culminating in a walk through the American cemetery, with an Eisenhower speech accompanying them. Learned got intense starting with Linus’s beach visions. The cemetery tour, which is visually magnificent, just ratchets it up even further.

There’s some more humor–really good physical gags–to calm things down. Then they get to Ypres, a World War I site, and Linus tells the other kids about it. The WWI sequence is much shorter–no rotoscoped footage–and initially seems like it won’t be as affecting as the D-Day sequences. Then Linus starts reciting John McCrae’s poem, *In Flanders Field*, with accompanying visuals, and it devastates. Munsen’s music plays a big part, effectiveness-wise.

Schulz wraps it up–before a gently comedic bookend–with some succinct profundity. It’s all very intense.

Great script, animation, direction, and music. Schoenberg is excellent with the lengthy expository monologues. The rest of the cast is good, they just don’t have the heavy lifting Schoenberg gets.

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), Brad Kesten (Charlie Brown), Victoria Vargas (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), and Stacy Heather Tolkin (Sally Brown).


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It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1983, Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez)

Despite being an anthology of eight different stories, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown does not have many adventures. Well, not in the adventurous sense. They’re still good, they’re just not… adventures. The special runs forty-seven minutes, with the eight stories having differing lengths.

The first three stories are the most substantial. There are two Charlie Brown (Michael Catalano) stories and then a Peppermint Patty (Brent Hauer) and Marcie (Michael Dockery) one.

The stories all have titles, which nicely delineates them. The first is “Sack,” in which Charlie Brown becomes so obsessed with baseball he develops a rash on his head. The rash looks like baseball stitches. His solution is to wear a paper shopping bag over his head; his doctor’s solution is for him to get away from it all and go to camp. There he becomes incredibly popular… because he’s got a bag over his head.

It’s a good start to Adventure, with a nice performance from Catalano, and some great moments. Charles M. Schulz adapted all of the stories from the Peanuts comic strip, so the proverbial tires are in good shape throughout, regardless of story length. There’s also a wonderfully absurdist punchline to the whole thing.

The next story is “Caddies,” which has Peppermint Patty and Marcie working as caddies for a couple bickering golfers. Hauer and Dockery are both good, there are some strong jokes, and some rather nice animation. Again, not really an adventure, but a good bit. It too has a strong punchline, while the rest of the stories have far more unassuming ones.

Like “Kite,” the last of the three longer stories. Charlie Brown finally cracks and attacks the Kite Eating Tree, resulting in a threatening letter from the EPA. Like any sensible eight year-old, upon receipt of the letter, he runs away. He doesn’t get too far before he finds himself coaching a bunch of younger kids’ baseball team. It’s a really sweet story, as Charlie Brown bonds with the kids, particularly little Milo (Jason Mendelson) who’s so young he can’t hold a bat.

Then there are two much shorter stories, one with Schroeder (Brad Schacter) and Lucy (Angela Lee Sloan) fighting as he tries to play his piano, the other with Sally (Cindi Reilly) having school problems. Both are visually simple, but the one with Schroeder and Lucy is so spared down the focus is all on the characters’ interaction. It’s rather effective thanks to Schacter and Lee Sloan’s performances.

The next two stories–”Butterfly” and “Blanket” are longer, but not as long as the opening three. And “Butterfly” is almost stellar, it just ends too soon. A butterfly lands on Peppermint Patty’s nose. After she falls asleep, Marcie takes the butterfly off and coaxes it to fly away. Only then Marcie tells Peppermint Patty the butterfly turned into an angel before flying away, convincing Patty she’s a practical prophet. She goes from telling the various Peanuts kids about the miracle before deciding to take her message to houses of worship. It’s good and funny and all, but for a moment it seems like Schulz is getting downright ambitious with Peppermint Patty’s (still very Peppermint Patty-like) evangelicalism.

“Blanket” has Lucy getting fed up with Linus’s blanket–to be fair, the blanket does attack her multiple times–and trying to dispose of it in various ways. Obviously these attempts cause Linus (Rocky Reilly) considerable consternation–and panic–as he tries to save the blanket. It’s a good story, with a lot of excellent animation (Adventure goes all out animation-wise); Reilly’s decent and Lee Sloan is good, even if she’s exceeding unlikable. Lucy gets cruel.

Then the Adventure ends with a short “Woodstock” and Snoopy bit. It’s adorable and, like most of the special, reserved and subtle.

While It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown lacks in frenzied imagination, the good performances, good direction, good animation, and strong writing more than compensate. It’s never particularly exciting, it’s always assured and well-executed. The longer, ten or twelve minute stories are a rather good length for the segments. The anthology format works out well. It’s too bad the directors don’t get credit for their individual segments; it’d be interesting to know who did what.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Catalano (Charlie Brown), Angela Lee Sloan (Lucy van Pelt), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Brad Schacter (Schroeder), Jenny Lewis (Ruby), Johnny Graves (Austin), and Jason Mendelson (Milo).


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