Review by KC Carlson
By 1975, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters were long established as a national treasure, and the annual animated specials always garnered lots of interest. But by now, the series was becoming a bit formulaic — you’d get the annual Charlie Brown vs. Lucy football gag, Snoopy would get a solo spot where he’d do something wacky, Linus would either be sage or sullen, Peppermint Patty would say something odd, and so on. So each special increasingly became reliant upon the major “hook” on which the majority of the story would hang. And for You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (the 14th in the series, out in a new DVD set on Tuesday), the hook was quite unusual — motocross racing!
As explained in the informative documentary about the program, the special was very much inspired by Schulz son Craig’s lifelong passion for motocross. The popular dirt bike racing sport made a brief appearance in the original Peanuts comic strip as another one of Snoopy’s (aka Joe Motocross) flights of fancy, but it was an inspired choice for the backdrop for one of the animated specials. With the unusual subject, a gift of action for the animators (who rose to the occasion), and a surprise ending (with a twist!), we were rewarded with a standout episode of the series. Not surprisingly, the show won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Special that year.
Also by now, the quirky yet charming animation had become much more polished — possibly too polished — so it was a joy to see this special set in the fall, allowing for some gorgeous autumnal colors and some absolutely beautiful watercolor skies to anchor the story back to earth. Unfortunately, this outing was not one of composer and musician Vince Guaraldi’s better scores, his unique jazz stylings of the earlier specials being reduced to lounge-style “tinkling in the background” here. Sadly, Guaraldi would die of a sudden heart attack within a year, after scoring and performing one last Peanuts special.
Here’s a clip from the show in which Marcie interviews two competitors, Peppermint Patty and the Masked Marvel:
As part of Warners’ outstanding reissue series, with remastered sound and picture, this DVD also comes with a bonus episode, You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown (the 18th special, from 1979), and the aforementioned behind-the-scenes documentary. You’re the Greatest is a pretty typical entry in the series, dealing with Charlie Brown’s attempt to win the decathlon event for his school against Marcie, a bully from another school, and the mysterious “Masked Marvel” representing the Ace Obedience School (guess who?). Oddly, this is the same Masked Marvel who competed against Chuck in You’re a Good Sport. Apparently, Snoopy’s mask works like Clark Kent’s glasses in that none of the kids ever recognize him when he’s in this clever disguise. Sadly, Charlie Brown in a sleeveless t-shirt looks like a short, bald, middle-age man. Interestingly, this is supposedly the only episode of the cartoon series where we see Marcie’s eyes, when she tips up her glasses (with the pop bottle-bottom lenses) to give “Charles” a flirty wink. A big shout-out to Casey Carlson as the voice of Marcie (not to be confused with the Casey Carlson currently on American Idol or other various Casey Carlsons who happen to spell their first name differently).
The featurette has many great Schulz family photos and home movies with comments by Craig Schulz, as well as insightful commentary by animation historian Jerry Beck and Peanuts historian (and CWR commenter) Nat Gertler. Great tie, Nat! It looks like Warners is really behind this excellent remastering program of all the Peanuts specials. The next in the series — Snoopy’s Reunion b/w It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown — is already in the pipeline for an April release. Keep ‘em coming, I say! (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)