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It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (1976, Phil Roman)

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.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Dylan Beach (Charlie Brown), Stuart Brotman (Peppermint Patty), Gail Davis (Sally Brown), Liam Martin (Linus van Pelt), Vinny Dow (Rerun van Pelt), and Sarah Beach (Lucy van Pelt).


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You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

Most of You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown is a motocross race. There are a bunch of kids in the race–organized by Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman)–but the only two racers who matter are Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) and Snoopy, “disguised” as The Masked Marvel. The race is beautifully plotted. Charles M. Schulz’s script is good throughout, but the race stands out. It’s not overly dramatic, it’s just good. Whether it’s Charlie Brown chugging along on his broken down bike or Snoopy having time for a picnic, the animation is always good, the interlude pacing is always good, it just works.

With the exception of the ending, which is soft, Schulz’s script doesn’t have a weak moment. Roman’s direction is always good, the animation is always good, the voice acting is always good. If not better. Jimmy Ahrens’s Marcie is phenomenal here; Marcie gets the job of race announcer and, much to everyone’s surprise, immediately becomes a real sports journalist.

The short opens with Sally (Gail Davis) and Linus (Liam Martin) getting a scene. Davis’s real good, Martin’s fine, but it’s a great scene. The title is a little misleading because at no point is Charlie Brown ever (neccesarily) a good sport. It just seems like it’s going to involve sports and Sally and Linus going to play tennis is, you know, sports.

But they can’t play because Snoopy’s got a match going against a mystery opponent. That match’s punchline is when Sports all of a sudden gets really good. The match itself is long, but needs to be for the punchline.

Then the actual story starts, with Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman) arriving and telling all the other kids about motocross. Charlie Brown and Linus get a crappy bike so they can participate. Once the race starts, Sports stops being predictable until it’s over. Schulz has puts Chekov’s gun on the wall in the first act, but it’s not neccesarily for firing. Sports has a strong script. Right up until the mediocre close.

Roman’s direction is really good, the animation is excellent, the Vince Guaraldi seventies cool(ish) jazz score is great, Sports is a good outing for Charlie Brown and company.

Though it does seem to ignore how Charlie Brown (maybe subconsciously) obviously knows the Masked Marvel’s identity.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stuart Brotman (Peppermint Patty), Gail Davis (Sally Brown), Liam Martin (Linus van Pelt), and Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt).


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Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

There’s not a lot of story in Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) is anxious to receive some valentines. Meanwhile, Linus (Stephen Shea) has a crush on his teacher, much to the chagrin of Sally (Lynn Mortensen).

Those plots are it. Everything else either supports Charlie Brown and Linus’s story or is just padding. Sally gets some scenes, but it’s Linus’s plot line. And they’re padded.

Some of the padding is charming. Valentine has some iffy graphic blandishment and that iffiness works against the charm. Some of the padding is just padding too. There’s this lengthy sequence where Snoopy is putting on a play and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) gets suckered into seeing it. Charlie Brown narrates and, even though it doesn’t really fit and isn’t particularly successful, there’s some creativity to the vingette. The scenes for the main stories? They’re awkward. Especially the third act, which takes place on Valentine’s Day. The kids in school, getting their valentines.

Director Roman–and his graphic blandishers–don’t take a lot of time executing the scene. It’s a long scene, there’s plenty of time to execute it better, they just don’t. Sometimes it gets worse. Plus, there are these weird “Peanuts” continuity errors–like Peppermint Patty and Marcie being in the classroom (silent) when they’re supposed to go to a different school. It makes you wonder how closely Roman and the animators followed the Charles M. Schulz script.

Of course, while Schulz gets the sole writing credit, they are seven credited story writers. And Valentine feels like there are eight sets of hands in it. It’s all over the place.

Linus’s resolution is also poorly executed. It’s extremely padded. Literally extremely padded. Editors Roger Donley and Chuck McCann hold this shot where nothing is happening on screen and there’s no sound suggesting anything happening for most of it and it just hangs. Valentine stalls. Literally this time instead of figuratively.

There’s some fun Snoopy stuff–outside the play–and some okay, if not enough, material for Lucy–but it all hinges on Linus and Charlie Brown’s stories. And then it sabotages them through plodding plotting.

Valentine is too rote. Especially Vince Guaraldi’s score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; teleplay by Charles M. Schulz, based on a story by Joseph A. Bailey, Jerry Juhl, Emily Perl Kingsley, Norman Stiles, Paul D. Zimmerman, David Korr, and Ray Sipherd and characters created by Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Lynn Mortensen (Sally Brown), Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Greg Felton (Schroeder), and Linda Ercoli (Violet).


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It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! (1974, Phil Roman)

Easter Beagle has a really strong script from Charles M. Schulz. Everything is balanced just right. It’s not balanced equally. The proportions are just right. Besides the lovely musical sequences–where Beagle goes for being lovely and graceful (lots of dancing Snoopy, set Vince Guaraldi, some Bach, and some Beethoven)–most of the special is spent with Peppermint Patty (Linda Ercoli) and Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens). Patty is trying to teach Marcie how to make Easter eggs. Things go wrong in very amusing ways as Marcie apparently has no understanding of how eggs work.

That subplot keeps up the whole special–but is actually completely independent of the “twist”–and just gets funnier. By the final few screw-ups, Peppermint Patty’s frustrations are possibly less than the viewer’s. It’s perfectly plotted by Schulz and director Roman. Really funny, really good plotting.

Other subplots include Sally (Lynn Mortensen) needing new shoes, Linus (Stephen Shea) trying to convince Sally and the other kids the Easter Beagle will give them all Easter eggs so why make them, and Woodstock needing a new bird house. Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee) and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) are around, but mostly just to be exasperated by their younger siblings.

There’s a great department store sequence–where everything is all Christmas (Easter Beagle has a couple moments of big commercialism commentary from Schulz; the department store works a lot better than the stuff in dialogue)–and only Snoopy is able to find the Easter section, on his way to picking out a bird house for Woodstock. Because even though Snoopy is a bit of a jerk to Woodstock–there’s a lot of almost mean slapstick violence–he does want to get him a new bird house.

Great music, some fantastic sequences (like, lots of them–Easter Beagle is mostly fantastic sequences), and strong performances from the cast. Kohn is maybe the weakest, but she comes around–though Barbee does have the worst part in the special–and Ercoli and Ahrens do some great work. Oh, and Mortensen and Shea. The Easter Beagle stuff is excellent.

And it’s got a great finish.

It’s the Easter Beagle, which has almost zilch to do with Easter, is a constant, consistent success.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Linda Ercoli (Peppermint Patty), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), Lynn Mortensen (Sally), Melanie Kohn (Lucy), and Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown).


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