It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown opens with Charlie Brown (Dylan Beach) and Linus (Liam Martin) making vaguely sexist cracks about Linus’s mother’s ability to ride her bicycle. Just as you’re thinking writer Charles M. Schulz is taking it a little far, he cuts to baby Rerun (Vinny Dow) on the back of the bike who gives his take on he and Mom’s day and it’s a perfect pivot. It changes the tone and trajectory of the scene, while also introducing the idea of visual constraints.
Arbor Day has a lot of great visuals–there’s a trip to the library, the whole ball field thing (I’ll explain in a minute)–but director Roman keeps them background to some degree. He and the animators concentrate on the foreground movement and action. It’s strong direction from Roman, even while sometimes the animation is a little too static on figures or expressions. Overall, the animation’s quite good, just sometimes a tad too functional; if the detail is a little off, the pragmatic animation only aggravates it.
But these weaker moments are few and only annoying because they screw up otherwise excellent scenes. There’s quite a bit of Sally (Gail Davis) flirting with Linus and one time the animation on Sally’s eyes throws the scene askew. Davis is excellent, Martin is good, so the scene should be one of the stronger dialogue-based ones in Arbor, but it hangs. Because of the animation detail.
Arbor Day has good dialogue-based bits and good physical comedy bits. Snoopy and Woodstock get the majority of the physical comedy ones. While the special is about Arbor Day–with Sally doing a report on it, so built-in exposition–it’s more about the first ball game of the season and how the Peanuts kids’ take on Arbor Day affect it.
And the ball game is great. The pragmatic animation plays well with the sports action, which is awesome. Arbor Day just gets better as it goes along. I mean, sure, the Arbor Day stuff is just affixed to a baseball game story but whatever.
The game’s against Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman, who’s great). Schulz likes his pairs in Arbor Day. Sally and Linus, Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown, Woodstock and Snoopy. Lucy (Sarah Beach) feels like a special guest star more than a regular cast member. And the gentle affections between Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown really play well. Arbor Day has a good arc for Charlie Brown and Dylan Beach does a fine job on the performance.
Arbor Day doesn’t have an inspired or ambitious narrative, it’s instead this expert execution of a twenty-five minute “Peanuts” special. Schulz and Roman have it down here. The characterizations are great, the performances are good, the Snoopy stuff is good, the game is good, the finale is great. Nice score from Vince Guaraldi. It’s just an ideal Charlie Brown special.