Tag Archives: Lee Mendelson

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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A Charlie Brown Celebration (1982, Bill Melendez)

A Charlie Brown Celebration opens with Charles M. Schulz introducing the special–which is twice as long as a regular special–and explaining he and director Bill Melendez had a little bit different of an idea for this one. It’s going to be a series of vignettes (though Schulz doesn’t use that term), with some longer ones and some shorter ones.

The first series of short vignettes goes on so long, it’s impossible to guess what’s coming after them. It’s the end of summer and the Peanuts cast all goes back to school, mostly with Sally (Cindi Reilly) worrying about being back. But there’s some moments for the rest of the kids, particularly Peppermint Patty (Brent Hauer), and then some gentle brown-nosing from Linus (Rocky Reilly). The focus on school segues nicely into the first longer story, which has Peppermint Patty trying to decide if she wants to go to private school to get her grades up. Thing is, she doesn’t want to cost her dad too much money on it.

Good thing Snoopy’s recommendation–an obedience school–is only twenty-five bucks.

Celebration has already requested the suspension of disbelief–Snoopy in scuba gear–so Peppermint Patty running around the obstacle course, not quite about to figure out why all the other students are making their dogs do it… it works. Especially since Marcie (Shannon Cohn) is around to give Patty some moral support, as well as some particularly acerbic jabs.

The next longer vignette has Linus and Sally on a field trip where Linus runs into another woman–Truffles (voiced by Casey Carlson)–much to Sally’s chagrin. But then Linus gets stuck on a snow-covered, icy barn roof and Sally’s got to enlist Snoopy and Woodstock to save him. It’s got some charm–with a particularly good performance from Rocky Reilly, who’s on the roof in the first place to get away from the fighting girls–even if it’s a little slight.

Celebration‘s stories might be slight but the production values are always strong. Even if there’s rarely background players on screen (no one is visible at the obedience school except Patty, for instance). It’s good direction from Melendez.

The next story–Lucy throwing out Schroeder’s piano–is fantastic. Voicing Lucy, Kristen Fullerton has already had some moments in the special but once she gets more material, Celebration basically becomes a showcase for her. She tosses the piano in the sewer, leading to Schroeder (a perfectly fine Christopher Donohoe) and Charlie Brown (Michael Mandy) having to try to mount a rescue. Melendez does really well with the scale on this one.

Then it’s back to Marcie and Peppermint Patty for an attempted baseball cap heist at the local ballpark before the grand finale, Charlie Brown getting mysteriously ill and ending up in the hospital. All the Peanuts kids worry about him, particularly Lucy (again, great stuff from Fullerton).

Schulz’s script for the vignettes are strong. The shorter ones, which are like a daily comic strip as far as pacing, are all amusing or better. The longer ones are often well-plotted with some great developments–Marcie’s crisis of conscience at the ballpark heist. The performances are all fine or better. Cohn’s initially a little labored in her pauses with Marcie, but the material makes up for it. And Mandy is almost as good as Fullerton.

A Charlie Brown Celebration is exactly what it says–a celebration. With some rather great moments thanks to the cast, Schulz, and–especially–Melendez. The pluses more than make up for the occasionally wonky animation and editing.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

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

Starring Michael Mandy (Charlie Brown), Kristen Fullerton (Lucy van Pelt), Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty), Shannon Cohn (Marcie), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Christopher Donohoe (Schroeder), and Casey Carlson (Truffles).


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