Review by Johanna and KC Carlson
The newest Peanuts DVD release, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, is a bit of an oddity.
It’s a 1985 adaptation of the 1967 stage musical of the same name. The animated characters perform comedy sketches and songs from the show, only without the framing of a stage. There isn’t a continuing story, just a string of skits, and the two-hour-plus show has been cut down to 48 minutes, so some songs have been omitted. Musical numbers on this DVD are:
- The title song, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”.
- “Schroeder”, in which Lucy hits on the piano player, to the tune of “Moonlight Sonata”. It’s one of my favorites because it so sums up that particular outdated view of how women set out to catch a man.
- Charlie Brown tries to fly “The Kite”.
- “Snoopy”, the dog’s description of his simple day.
- Various characters complain about having to write “The Book Report” about Peter Rabbit. Schroeder has this amazing-looking single-unit computer that produces pixellated animation while resembling something from the stone age, relatively speaking, and he plays it as he does his piano.
- Lucy teaches Linus about nature in “Little Known Facts”. Great comedy, since she gets everything wrong!
- The whole cast sings “T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)”. Kind of weird seeing the cartoon kids do dance numbers and chorus lines.
- “Glee Club Rehearsal”, which incorporates “Home on the Range”.
- The well-known “Suppertime”, in which Snoopy sings about how much he loves eating, and “Happiness”, where the whole cast shares what happiness is for them.
The voices don’t sound quite right to our ears, but we’re guessing that that’s because they needed to cast more professional kids (not the more natural voices used in the earlier specials) in order to handle the singing. Even so, occasionally hearing them reach for some of the notes made us say “ow”. (The stage show was cast with adults.) Particularly weird is hearing Snoopy have voice-overs. With words, I mean, not just sounds, and an adult voice (Robert Towers, who played the character on stage in 1967).
During the numbers, we see various fantasy sequences, which is unusual for the Peanuts characters (with the exception of Snoopy’s daydreams). Also unusual to long-time Peanuts viewers is the way the characters have to be reintroduced to the viewer and summed up in terms of their best-known traits.
You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown
(Original Cast Album)Buy this CD
Fun bit of trivia: Charlie Brown’s closet contains shirts in all different colors, but they all have that zig-zag bar pattern. Also, if you keep your finger on the pause button, you’ll get to see the round-headed Charlie Brown drawn in three-quarters view, during the Valentine sequence, which makes him look like his features were scribbled on a balloon. Not good. The character, like the rest of the cast, works much better in either full-face or profile views, the way Schulz designed all of them for the newspaper strip.
Quibbles aside, this is a neat way to capture the musical, especially for kids who like the characters but don’t have the attention span to sit through a real-life staging. It’s an interesting, unique approach to the characters compared to the other animated specials. The 15-minute bonus feature, “Animating a Charlie Brown Musical”, gives a history of the stage show, including its beginnings as a concept album by Clark Gesner. This DVD is a great artifact to have, especially since there’s no easily available filmed version of the show, and there’s nowhere else you can see the cartoon characters singing their songs, since you didn’t even get that on stage.
(The studio provided a review copy.)