Category Archives: 1979

You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown (1979, Phil Roman)

You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown is the unlikely tale of Charlie Brown (Arrin Skelley) participating in the school’s track meet–doing the decathlon–and doing well. It opens with Peppermint Patty (Patricia Patts) trying to sucker one of her classmates into doing the decathlon; Charlie Brown shows up just in time to go for it. It certainly seems like he’s going to mess it all up, writer Charles M. Schulz forecasts him messing it all up, but then he doesn’t. Instead, Greatest is usually surprising in the developments.

The first third is Charlie Brown training with Peppermint Patty coaching. Snoopy’s helping. Though Snoopy does better than Charlie Brown. And Marcie (Casey Carlson) is hanging around and encouraging Charlie Brown because she’s got a crush on him.

Only then Marcie becomes Charlie Brown’s back-up because Peppermint Patty realizes he can’t do it alone. It’s never explained why Peppermint Patty can’t do it, as she trains him by example. She does the decathlon events successfully, he fails. And she spends the whole meet just coaching him.

Anyway, the whole meet. The second two-thirds of Greatest are basically just the decathlon events. It’s Charlie Brown, Marcie, Snoopy in his Masked Marvel disguise (and Charlie Brown not just not recognizing Snoopy but not remembering where Snoopy went to obedience school), and some mean older, taller kid (Tim Hall). It’s the ten events, with Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty in between talking about the school’s chances. It’s dramatic, it’s funny, it’s perfectly solid stuff.

There are no standout bits because the whole thing just works. Some lovely animation, fine direction from Roman, and strong acting from the cast. Particularly Carlson and Patts. Marcie gets her own story arc, although it’s background; Carlson excels. And Schulz gets to mix that arc with some good sportspersonship messaging.

Then there’s the final “Charlie Brown” moment and it’s painfully perfect. Unlike Patts and Carlson, the animation defines Charlie Brown more than anything Skelley can do. It’s just a physical part for Charlie Brown. He’s pumping iron… Anything could happen.

Greatest isn’t the greatest but it’s inventive and sublimely executed. Nice music from Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen too.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown), Patricia Patts (Peppermint Patty), Casey Carlson (Marcie), Tim Hall (Fred Fabulous), Daniel Anderson (Linus van Pelt), and Michelle Muller (Lucy van Pelt).


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It's Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown (1980, Bill Melendez and Phil Roman)

There’s an adorable moment when Woodstock makes a nest out of dental floss in It’s Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown, but otherwise it’s a hard going five and a half minutes.

Charlie Brown needs to floss and Lucy’s going to teach him. She wants to get all that plaque out before she goes to Schroeder’s concert. There’s so much pointless exposition, all of it with wooden delivery, one has to wonder how much work writer Charles M. Schulz put into Flossophy. Or how much work the directors put in to Michelle Muller’s performance as Lucy. It’s impossible to believe some of her deliveries weren’t just first takes.

Woodstuck gets Lucy’s dental floss because he’s having trouble building a nest. It’s a twenty or thirty second subplot and about the only charm in the cartoon. Snoopy helps him with it, apparently able to maintain brain function through Lucy’s flossing instruction instead of just shutting it off entirely.

And it’s all on Muller. Schulz gives her all the lines. She’s got to precisely describe various flossing techniques and there’s no way to make them work in dialogue. It gets her some sympathy, even if her performance itself doesn’t deserve it. When she gets to the “smell your floss, isn’t it gross, that smell is the plaque” moment, the goodwill’s gone. It’s unclear if the plaque smelling is supposed to be funny, disgusting, or instructional; regardless, like the rest of Flossophy, it’s a fail.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez and Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; music by Vince Guaraldi; released by the American Dental Association.

Starring Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown) and Michelle Muller (Lucy).


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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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Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge (1979, Don McDougall)

Some of The Dragon’s Challenge’s problems are because it’s a TV two-parter stuck together then packaged as a theatrical. An overseas theatrical, but still a theatrical feature. The action in the first half takes place in New York, with some cuts to villain Richard Erdman making plans. He needs to get a Chinese official out of the way so he can build a steel plant.

When the Chinese official (Benson Fong) heads to New York, Erdman sends touch guy Hagan Beggs after him. Better to assassinate him in New York than Hong Kong.

Except Fong’s in New York with a purpose–get help from Robert F. Simon and the Daily Bugle. Enter Nicholas Hammond and, pretty quickly, Spider-Man. Fong’s got a niece, played by Rosalind Chao, who thinks Hammond’s a coward for running off. Little does she know he’s running off to change into his Spider-Man outfit and save the day.

The second half takes place in Hong Kong. Much of it shot in Hong Kong. When the Spider-Man stuntman is dangling alongside a huge Hong Kong skyscraper, Dragon’s Challenge delivers on something it hadn’t really been serious about. Even though director McDougall is clearly thrilled to be shooting on location in Hong Kong, nothing in Lionel E. Siegel’s teleplay sets anything up for Spider-Man. It doesn’t even set anything up for Nicholas Hammond. The Hong Kong stuff is entirely about the villains hunting Hammond, Chao, and soon-to-be government witness John Milford. Until they get attacked, however, it’s a travelogue with this odd trio.

Hammond and Chao have no chemistry. It’s Hammond’s fault. He ignores Chao in the first half, then condescends in the second. It’s because he’s sweet on her, it turns out. Milford’s fine, but not any fun. The travelogue still can get away with it because it turns out they’re on location.

There’s a car chase in Hong Kong and then a helicopter chase. Oh, and a boat chase. And Spider-Man lets the bad guys get away. For maybe the second time in Dragon’s Challenge. Hammond makes some bad superhero decisions throughout.

Series regulars Chip Fields and Ellen Bry don’t get anything to do and barely make an impression. Particularly Bry. Even though she and Hammond get a very romantic setup–using New York location shots–they don’t have anything going on in Dragon’s Challenge. Mostly because Hammond’s weird subplot about Chao not liking him infests the first half. It’s silly.

Chao’s good. She’s got lousy material and no energy from Hammond but she’s a great guest star. Simon’s got some strong scenes with Fong. Beggs is a fine bad guy, even if he is an idiot who whines about his inability to plot assassinations. It’s more amusing than when Hammond mopes about Chao thinking he’s a coward. Those scenes are just awful.

Hammond’s part in Dragon’s Challenge is thin. His job is to run out and become Spider-Man then have no excuse when Spider-Man gets done so everyone is an idiot for not realizing the obvious.

It’s nice to see Fields, even if it’s only for a few scenes.

Fine editing from Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth.

The Dragon’s Challenge has got some decent pieces and it’s far from unbearable; it’s still closer to unbearable than any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Don McDougall; teleplay by Lionel E. Siegel, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Siegel; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Rosalind Chao (Emily Chan), Hagan Beggs (Evans), Richard Erdman (Mr. Zeider), John Milford (Professor Roderick Dent), and Benson Fong (Min Lo Chan).


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