Category Archives: Cartoon

Charlie Brown Clears the Air (1979, Bill Melendez)

Charlie Brown Clears the Air opens with a deceptively funny gag. Snoopy messing with Linus. It’s the only funny thing in the cartoon, produced for American Lung Association with the apparent purpose of boring children into environmentally responsible behavior.

See, Snoopy’s in a mood because his dog house has got soot all over it because the neighbor is burning leaves and trash. The neighbor won’t stop burning leaves and trash unless Snoopy gets his motorcycle’s exhaust system fixed. Woodstock is Snoopy’s mechanic and he can’t figure it out–when the Woodstock cameo falls utterly, painfully flat, it’s clear how little Clears is going to impress–so they’re just going to have to live in mutual misery.

Then there’s the baseball game where Lucy can’t see because of air pollution and Linus can’t catch fly balls because he trips over litter. We see the litter. We don’t see the air pollution–apparently the American Lung Association didn’t offer the filmmakers much in the way of money, Clears has almost no backgrounds and nothing in the way of establishing shots. What can Charlie Brown do about it?

He can give a report at school.

A really boring report.

Bad dialogue throughout from Charles M. Schulz–so bad I didn’t think he wrote it–and similarly bad deliver from Arrin Skelley as Charlie Brown. There’s no way to make the clunky, expository dialogue work. Neither Daniel Anderson (as Linus) or Michelle Muller (as Lucy) do much better; they don’t do as bad, however, just because they don’t have as much dialogue as Skelley.

Clears doesn’t have anything going for it. Not writing, not animation, nothing. It’s charmless to the point of being annoying.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the American Lung Association

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Daniel Anderson (Linus), and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


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Tooth Brushing (1978, Bill Melendez)

It’s incredible Tooth Brushing only runs five minutes. The cartoon (an educational short produced for the American Dental Association) starts innocuously enough. Charlie Brown gets out of the dentist, heads home to try out his new brush and other dentist goodies–he’s also got fresh instructions from the dentist.

He runs into Snoopy, then he runs into Linus. And decides he’s going to instruct Linus… and Snoopy instead of brushing his own teeth. It’s fine, because Linus has his toothbrush handy and Snoopy has Lucy’s toothbrush. The Snoopy using Lucy’s toothbrush sequence, as Charlie Brown and Linus get more and more mortified, is where Tooth Brushing nails it. It’s gross (though, really, does Snoopy have more plaque than Linus) and it seems like it can’t be topped.

Then Lucy gets home and shows the boys the real way to brush your teeth.

Great animation, great performance from Michelle Muller as Lucy (and decent ones from Arrin Skelley and Daniel Anderson as Charlie Brown and Linus, respectively) and some perfect comic timing make Tooth Brushing so funny you forget it’s supposed to be educational and not just a great bit. Roger Donley and Chuck McCann’s editing and Jeff Hall’s perfect animation (he holds the horrified expressions just right) are outstanding.

Brushing’s hilarious.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; animated by Jeff Hall; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; production designer, Evert Brown; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by the American Dental Association.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Daniel Anderson (Linus), and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


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Secret Agent (1943, Seymour Kneitel)

Secret Agent opens with this really exciting car chase. Clark (Bud Collyer) has just called in and been told to get to work on the right story, only then a car crashes through the drug store he’s in and so he hops on the back of it as it chases another car. Then the cops start chasing the car Clark’s on; he pushes up a thug’s gun hand so he can’t shoot at the cops. The whole thing ends with a female secret agent getting away and Clark apparently unconscious and captured by saboteurs.

The chief saboteur has a monocle and a Hitler mustache. It’s unclear how he manages to get around in the United States without people wondering what he’s up to… oh, and a German accent.

So most of the cartoon has to do with the secret agent (voiced by Joan Alexander in a less than impressive performance–she’s got one monologue and it’s flat) trying to get to the airport. The cops are going to give her an escort, but the saboteur ring ambushes them and mows down a bunch of cops before the agent gets through.

But the shootout ambush was just a red herring, the real ambush is at a swing bridge. The secret agent ends up on the bridge’s mechanics, in danger of being crushed. Luckily, when the bad guys call the Hitler boss guy, he and his guys get ready to go and lock up Clark before leaving. Once he’s safely in a broom closet, Clark finally changes into the long johns and saves the day.

Shame he didn’t do anything to save those shot down coppers. Because he was either unconscious or just didn’t think he could break the ropes and take out the guards? Not very super.

There’s some lame jingoism, which the cartoon could’ve gotten away with as cute if it were any good (that opening with the car chase is decent stuff though) and for some reason a lot of focus on the secret agent’s shapely legs.

Secret Agent is a stinker.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Seymour Kneitel; screenplay by Carl Meyer, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Otto Feuer and Steve Muffati; music by Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Secret Agent), Julian Noa (Perry White), and Jackson Beck (Nazis); narrated by Beck.


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Jungle Drums (1943, Dan Gordon)

Sitting through the first third of Jungle Drums, I kept hoping the cartoon would keep the African natives in silhouette. I had zero confidence they wouldn’t do some racist caricature and, at least in silhouette, there would be specifics. The natives do get out of silhouette and they are racist caricatures, but… at least there’s no real activity from the natives? It could be a lot worse. The cartoon could go two streams of racist, it just goes one. Yay?

So the story is these Nazis are pretending to be… witch doctors or something? They hide their identities by wearing white robes. Yes, that kind of white robe. Lois (Joan Alexander) and Clark (Bud Collyer) are in Africa for some reason, each taking an individual ride with a pilot to somewhere. Doesn’t matter. Lois’s plane crashes. She gets captured, tied to a stake, burned alive. Lois takes long enough to burn (she just passes out from the heat) Clark can save her. He’s not worried about his pilot seeing him change into his long johns after parachuting out with no warning.

Then it’s Superman versus Nazis in white robes. Then Hitler’s in it.

The setup of the temple–while the natives are silhouetted–is visually striking. The rest of it is less. Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison’s animation is mostly competent, Gordon’s direction just isn’t compelling. He does all right with exposition and lead-up, but has very few ideas once the action starts.

Though maybe it’s because the action is more about bombers and conveys and upset Hitler than Superman?

Jungle Drums is an object lesson in the perils of propaganda media. Though Alexander does almost get a good part. When the Nazis are interrogating her, it seems like it might go somewhere good. Unfortunately, it goes to pot.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Dan Gordon; screenplay by Robert Little and Jay Morton, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; animated by Orestes Calpini and H.C. Ellison; music by Winston Sharples and Sammy Timberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Julian Noa (German Commander), and Jack Mercer (Lt. Fleming); narrated by Jackson Beck.


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