Category Archives: 1983

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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Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? (1983, Phil Roman)

Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown? opens with this gag of Linus and Snoopy fighting over Linus’s blanket. It doesn’t relate to the special’s story and has a completely different tone–and an almost cruel Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg)–but it does echo later on a little. Goodbye is about Linus and Lucy (Angela Lee Sloan) moving away; Linus gives his blanket to Snoopy in an unexpected and tender scene. So the opening works. Even if Linus is a little too intense during it.

The first half of the special is the moving away story. Linus telling Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten), Lucy telling Schroeder (Kevin Brando). Sally, played by Stacy Heather Tolkin, spends the van Pelt siblings last few days in town in utter denial. Not just about them moving, but about Linus making a date to take her to the movies. While Charlie Brown is all over the place trying to cope with losing his best friend–including a trip to Lucy’s psychiatry booth (she’s sold the practice)–Sally’s sitting on the steps waiting for her date.

There’s a nice scene where Lucy and Linus have a farewell luncheon and make the mistake of hiring Joe Cool Catering. No belly laughs, but some rather nice smiles. Goodbye is all about the emotions resulting from the move, with Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas) deciding she’s got to help Charlie Brown recover. But it then becomes all about whether or not she’s actually got a crush on him, which is most of the second half of Goodbye.

Really good performances from Kesten and Lee Sloan, but everyone’s solid. Charles M. Schulz handles the moving seriously, giving Tolkin and Brando some strong material as well. Vargas is probably the most uneven performance but she’s still good. Michael Dockery is fine as Marcie, who doesn’t get much to do but give Vargas a sounding board.

A rather nice score from Judy Munsen, good direction from Roman… Goodbye is a fine half hour. Schulz’s script is earnest and sincere and nicely realized by Roman and the animators.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Brad Kesten (Charlie Brown), Stacy Heather Tolkin (Sally Brown), Victoria Vargas (Peppermint Patty), Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), Angela Lee Sloan (Lucy van Pelt), Michael Dockery (Marcie), and Kevin Brando (Schroeder / Franklin).


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V (1983, Kenneth Johnson)

About half of V is quite good. Unfortunately, V was a two-night mini-series and the first half is good part. The second half, not so much. The first half has human-like alien visitors arriving on Earth, in hopes of making a chemical compound to take back home to save their planet. Turns out they’re lying about pretty much everything and they’re actually bad aliens. It’s just they’ve taken over the planet by the time anyone notices. Traditional good guys like American presidents or the military are taken completely unawares and it’s up to the little people. Actually, specifically, it’s up to the scientists. Because the aliens hate scientists. Because they science things and find out the truth. It’s actually never explained.

Writer and director Johnson sets most of the action in Los Angeles. There are the doctors at a hospital and their supporting cast, then these families in one neighborhood. Everyone is interconnected. Richard Lawson is a doctor at the hospital, his dad (Jason Bernard) works at a chemical plant, that chemical plant is run by Hansford Rowe, who is married to Neva Patterson, whose son from a previous marriage is lead Marc Singer.

In the first half, Singer’s only the lead because he’s the cocky white guy. In the second half, he’s the lead because he’s the cocky white guy who does dangerous things and makes the hard decisions. Second lead technically is Faye Grant. She’s a med student who ends up running a resistance cell. She works with Lawson. Remember him? He started this particular interconnected character web.

Grant starts V kind of second-fiddle to Ron Hajak. They’re a couple, living together, she’s the med student, he’s the stockbroker. Yuppie love. Or, as my wife put it, Ken and Barbie in the Malibu Beach House. It’s only significant because eventually Hajak disappears. And it turns out without the Ken and Barbie bicker thing, there’s not much to Grant. Johnson gets her about halfway through the first episode without having anything just for her.

Second half, she’s the resistance leader.

Grant is not good. She’s sympathetic. But the performance isn’t good. The part isn’t well-written. Johnson has a problem with the female parts here. Though it’s cool how V passes Bechdel; Grant is unsure in her newfound command, sweet older woman Camila Ashland reassures her. Unfortunately, Ashland’s not good either. She’s sympathetic. And Blair Tefkin’s feckless teenage girl is a whole other problem.

Oh, and Joanna Kerns as Singer’s ex-wife. Her part’s crap.

Anyway. Those parts are problems. Penelope Windust’s part is better for half of V–she disappears in the second half because… well, because her husband–Michael Durrell–gets to have a huge character arc out of nowhere. Not a particularly good arc either, in terms of writing or plotting. It drags, actually; Johnson makes a movie with flying saucers and somehow makes more requests for disbelief suspension when the sci-fi visual part is done. Sure, it comes back for the grand finale, but it’s way too action-oriented. Johnson is not good at the action. He’s good at the gee whiz factor, which isn’t appropriate in V after twenty or thirty minutes and he knows it. So then there’s no more gee whiz.

The finale features a starfighter battle. But the starfighters are spacious minivan-type starfighters. Johnson tries for sci-fi action in the sequence and fails miserably. It’s also way too long a sequence. It’s okay compost shots of the starfighter minivans, but then there are these terrible one or two-shots of the starfighter pilots. It looks like they’re sitting at tables. There’s even a rear gun in the minivan. Because Johnson needs another Star Wars nod. Besides some production design stuff, there’s also a sequence where the aliens arrive and a high school band plays The Imperial March from Empire.

That arrival sequence? It’s at Patterson’s husband’s plant, which Singer is covering, and Tefkin is playing in the band. It’s so unfortunate the second half of V doesn’t bring the cast together better. Johnson spends a lot of time being pragmatic about how to transition between characters and how to build subplots. Even when the writing is thin (Tefkin) or the acting isn’t great, there’s always something going on.

And then the beginning of the second half brings in a bunch of stray threads. Only Johnson doesn’t want to do melodrama so he goes for surprise. Melodrama probably would’ve worked better.

The second half also throws in good guy alien Frank Ashmore and his sexy sidekick, Jenny Neumann.

Johnson has an intricate thoughtful script for the first half. He builds his subplots, he cultivates them. Second half, he either tears them up or ignores them. He doesn’t build anything new for half of V. He just stops. The second night is a premature victory lap.

And gives Durrell way too much to do.

The first half just has the better writing, both of events and characters. Leonardo Cimino lives in the same neighborhood as Durrell. Cimino’s grandson is a collaborator. There are a lot of collaborators. Johnson’s a realist. David Packer plays the grandson. He’s crushing on Tefkin, incidentally. Packer’s good, though he gets a lot better writing and direction than Tefkin.

So you watch the first half and it’s all these interesting characters and how they’re experiencing an alien invasion. The second-half is totally different. At least, except when–especially at the end–Johnson wants to do callbacks to the first half.

The biggest and most immediate callback is Michael Wright. He’s Lawson’s thieving baby brother. But then he gets a great monologue and Johnson directs the heck out of it. So is it a problematic callback?

Sure?

Wright’s fine. Singer’s fine. Jason Bernard, Cimino, Evan C. Kim, Rafael Campos. They’re all fine. Bonnie Bartlett gives the best performance, even with a small, thin role. Overall, adequate acting, lot of charm; the TV movie way.

With caveats–V is a successful TV miniseries. Johnson keeps it together for over three hours and over a hundred speaking roles.

He should’ve just done the first half. Written the women’s parts better too, but the second half is superfluous. The narrative ambition is gone. The special effects ambition is present, but distorted. Bad finish. Especially when people are reconnecting and the scenes are all weak.

Good special effects overall. Some great makeup effects. Johnson does do one great action sequence. It’s right at the beginning. Again, he had a lot more ambition at minute four versus minute 105.

V doesn’t have a good ending. Johnson doesn’t even try to find one. It’s infuriating.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kenneth Johnson; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Paul Dixon, Alan C. Marks, Robert K. Richard, and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; production designer, Charles R. Davis; produced by Chuck Bowman; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Marc Singer (Mike Donovan), Faye Grant (Juliet Parrish), Jane Badler (Diana), Michael Durrell (Robert Maxwell), Michael Wright (Elias Taylor), David Packer (Daniel Bernstein), Leonardo Cimino (Abraham Bernstein), Evan C. Kim (Tony Wah Chong Leonetti), Jenny Sullivan (Kristine Walsh), Blair Tefkin (Robin Maxwell), Penelope Windust (Kathleen Maxwell), Richard Lawson (Dr. Ben Taylor), Peter Nelson (Brian), George Morfogen (Stanley Bernstein), Bonnie Bartlett (Lynn Bernstein), Frank Ashmore (Martin), Jason Bernard (Caleb Taylor), Rafael Campos (Sancho Gomez), Diane Cary (Harmony Moore), Robert Englund (Willie), Ron Hajak (Dennis Lowell), Joanna Kerns (Marjorie Donovan), Camila Ashland (Ruby Engels), Viveka Davis (Polly Maxwell), William Russ (Brad), Neva Patterson (Eleanor Dupres), Andrew Prine (Steven), Tommy Petersen (Josh Brooks), Jenny Neumann (Barbara), and Richard Herd (John).


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