Review by KC Carlson
As promised a couple of weeks past (unfortunately delayed by illness), here’s my rundown of the latest Peanuts collection, just in time for holiday gift-giving (or turkey stuffing!).
Play It Again, Charlie Brown, the 7th Peanuts special, originally aired on March 28, 1971. This may be the most musical of all the Peanuts specials, as it primarily features Schroeder and Lucy, using many of the gags from the original comic strip that revolve around this odd couple. Excerpts from nine different Beethoven pieces are used in the special, all performed by Lillian Steuber on piano. Schroeder is the character that most benefited from the journey to the printed page to film, as we can now hear the beautiful and amazing sounds that emerge from that wonderful toy piano. It’s also the first time someone other than Peter Robbins voiced Charlie Brown — Chris Inglis takes over the role in the episode. It’s also the first time this episode has been released on DVD.
I really enjoyed this different take on the Peanuts gang, as it was somewhat refreshing to not have the spotlight on either Snoopy or Charlie Brown — although both are present in the episode. I also love Linus and Snoopy’s “happy” dancing and the “Beethoven now comes in spray cans!” gag! Watch for the great role-reversal, as Snoopy takes over the “Psychiatric Help” booth when Lucy is the one in need of advice. We also learn, via Lucy, that Beethoven never had the “Nashville Sound”. Sad, that…
It’s sad that this episode is so underrated, as I think it’s one of the best in the series!
You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown first aired on October 29, 1972, as the 8th episode in the Peanuts series. It’s notable for the first use of the song “Joe Cool”, written, performed, and sung by Vince Guaraldi. Interestingly, the original title for the show was “You’re Elected, Charlie Brown” but it was changed at the last minute when they realized than not only is Charlie Brown not elected — he didn’t even run for office! The change was made too late to change the singing in the opening sequence or to fix the writing on the blackboard. (“Not” is added with a caret, instead of changing the whole cel.) This special was first released on DVD as a bonus feature on It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in its original 2000 release.
This episode is also the first TV appearance of Woodstock, Snoopy’s bird friend, although his first animated appearance was in the feature film Snoopy, Come Home, also released in 1972 in theaters. Interestingly, the original comic strips this special was based on were used to create the first official Peanuts Motion Comic — “Linus for President/The Election,” released on iTunes in 2008.
In usual Charlie Brown fashion, he attempts to run for Student Body President, until he is informed by his campaign manager (Lucy) that her polling indicates that he has absolutely no chance of winning. So Linus is drafted in his place, ultimately giving one of the best campaign speeches of this generation. And, of course he leads the polling — until he decides to spontaneously give a speech about the Great Pumpkin. Despite this, he actually wins by one vote (his opponent’s), but he soon discovers that he actually has no real power to change anything. A good episode, based largely from the comic strip.
Not All Can Be Gems
The 9th Peanuts special, There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown, originally aired on March 11, 1973. The show again featured the song “Joe Cool”, this time with additional lyrics. This show marks Marcie’s animated debut, and if you look closely in Peppermint Patty’s bedroom, you’ll see that she has UCLA, USC, and Stanford pennants on the walls.
There’s no time for love because the Peanuts gang is besieged with schoolwork and tests. Classic line from Peppermint Patty: “No book on psychology can be any good if you can understand it.” There’s lots of black-out jokes about school (most directly from the comic strip), and eventually, they get to the main storyline — a class trip to the local art museum. Unfortunately, Charlie Brown, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie get sidetracked and end up in the grocery store next door. We’re supposed to believe that none of them recognize the difference. (Well, Marcie does, but no one listens to her.) To make matters worse, Charlie Brown is supposed to write a report about the museum but writes it about the supermarket instead. Miraculously, he doesn’t get an “F”; he gets an “A” for writing a “delightful analogy comparing the museum to a supermarket!” Oh, good grief!
There’s some cute flirting and missed/mixed messages among Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie in this episode, but it’s not enough to overcome this really dumb premise and conclusion. The characters are sometimes naive — but not stupid, as they appear here.
Making its DVD debut, It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown originally aired on February 1, 1974, and is the 11th Peanuts special in the series. When Woodstock’s fancy new nest turns up missing, Snoopy dons a cloak, deerstalker hat, and (bubble) pipe to become the world-famous detective and investigate the mystery. The beagle and bird spend most of the episode scouring the neighborhood but come up empty, until the nest turns up at the school, labeled as a “prehistoric bird nest”. Later, we discover that the nest was taken by Sally to be her science exhibit. But since Sally is the most self-absorbed Peanuts character, she insists that that she’s been wronged, so all the characters present their case to Judge
Judy Lucy, with Woodstock being represented by Joe Cool. Judge Lucy rules in Woodstock’s favor, so he gets his nest back, and Snoopy helps out Sally’s science experiment by offering to portray Pavlov’s dog.
It’s a pretty undistinguished offering from the series, bordering on annoying with many unfunny and repeated jokes (Woodstock doesn’t like being wet — we get it!), and even Guaraldi’s normally reliable music is meandering and boring in this episode. We do learn two things however: Woodstock uses an invisible elevator to get from his nest to the ground. And legal advice from Lucy is more expensive than psychiatric advice: 7 cents.
I’ve previously reviewed A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on this site.
It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, the 12th Peanuts special, originally aired on April 9, 1974, and features the first appearance of the famous Bunny-Wunnies, the stars of Snoopy’s favorite book series, as presented in the comic strip.
The episode is one of the better ones in the series, mostly due to its multifaceted shoreline. Everybody’s preparing for Easter, which Linus claims is not necessary since the Easter Beagle will do all the work when he arrives (ala the Great Pumpkin). Sally is skeptical after being burned last Halloween, when she stayed up all night in a pumpkin patch. Meanwhile, Peppermint Patty gets more and more aggravated (always a good thing) trying to teach Marcie how to decorate Easter Eggs. After Woodstock decides that he doesn’t like nests anymore, Snoopy helps him set up a new birdhouse — which he decorates in 70s-era finery (lots of shag carpeting!). And Lucy has figured out the secret to Easter — if you hide the eggs, then you know where to find them. Unfortunately, she didn’t count on Snoopy following behind her and collecting all the eggs, which he hands out on Easter morning as he portrays Guess Who?
While shopping for Easter stuff, the kids discover the local store is decorated for Christmas (“only 246 days until Xmas” says a holiday banner). Plus, there are a lot of logic-defying escalator gags. And there’s a very cute scene where Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie dance to the music of several music boxes — and then the girls swoon after Snoopy kisses them!
One Special Feature
Woodstock: Creating Snoopy’s Sidekick is the set’s sole Special Feature (and unique to this set). Unfortunately, once again the previous documentary about the Thanksgiving Special is not included on this set. This feature is a 13-minute documentary on the origins of Snoopy’s little bird pal, who originally appeared in the comics strip for three years before anyone knew his name. Producer Lee Mendelson, Jean Schulz, and others compare the bird and beagle team to Laurel and Hardy and comment about how Woodstock was the perfect companion for Snoopy’s crazy adventures. The little bird certainly was a popular character — he appears in more than 1,000 Peanuts comic strips.
Of course, Warners, not missing a beat, has affixed this plug on the end of the documentary: “Available from Warner Home Video: Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music Director’s Cut“. Sheesh! Have they not watched A Charlie Brown Christmas?!? Unforgivable commercialization aside, the Peanuts 1970’s Collection Volume 1 is a worthwhile collection of mostly still-classic Peanuts specials, although the uniqueness of the series is starting to wear off a bit. It’s a great set for those looking to grab a nice handful of Peanuts episodes (without a lot of special features) at an affordable price. (The studio provided a review copy.)