About two years ago, I sat through a high school production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, and walked away less than enthralled. Yep, call me a philistine, but I’m just not ready – maybe never will be – to detach myself aesthetically from the charming Bill Melendez-animated Peanuts TV specials featuring everyone’s favorite blockhead, good ‘ol Chuck Brown.
Cut me some slack…I grew up with these programs, as any GenXer with a television set did. I don’t want to hear Snoopy talk. I don’t want to watch kids who don’t remotely resemble Linus, Pigpen, Violet, and the rest of the gang as I recognize them. It hardly helped matters that a huge poster featuring Charles Schulz’s original drawings hung high in the center of the stage, staring down the cast members, an omnipresent reminder of the nostalgia-drenched images fixed in my mind.
I just watched He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown, now out on DVD, and while slipping the disc into the DVD player, I plumbed my memory for any plot points from the show. It’s actually the fifth prime-time special featuring the Peanuts bunch, and I’m certain I caught it back in the ‘70s, but ironically, my recollections were hazy, at best.
It seems that Snoopy, America’s premiere pooch – well, he’ll settle it in a cage match with Scooby-Doo – is misbehaving in grand style, playing incessant pranks on all nearby humans, sometimes quite aggressively. Summoning up as much huff ‘n puff as he can, Snoops blow original Mean Girl Lucy into a wading pool, and who can resist a cackle at seeing Miss Football-Yanker take a splash! In fact, Lucy becomes the primary target for Snoopy’s insolence, and the two later engage in fisticuffs.
Charlie Brown, with the damn mutt getting on his last nerve, decides to ship Snoops back to the fabled Daisy Hill Puppy Farm for a crash course in obedience. Don’t know about you, but the appellation “Puppy Farm” has an ominous dog mill feeling to me. PETA, where art thou? Anyhow, Snoopy hits the road to Daisy Hill, and Chuck rings up Peppermint Patty to arrange an overnight stop for his beloved but exasperating dog. Hilariously, the ever-clueless Peppermint Patty truly believes that Snoopy is human, despite appearances to the contrary. She happily takes him in, but gets more than she bargained for when Snoopy treats her home like a luxe hotel, refusing to clean up after himself.
He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown contains numerous requisite scenes expected from any Peanuts TV project. Snoopy fantasizes about World War I fighter pilot glory, gnashing his teeth at his arch-foe the Red Baron, Schroeder tinkles the ivories in his usual near-fetal position., and the late Vince Guaraldi’s lilting cool jazz arrangements underscore the action. As an aficionado of bossa nova, I was pleasantly surprised to hear these rhythms in the soundtrack, and still lament that Guaraldi’s sudden death in 1976 deprived later Peanuts specials of his bouncy, indispensable sound. The bonus program in this package, Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown, was made in 1980, and the musical score is decidedly lackluster.
Life Is a Circus is definitely anti-climactic when pitted against the Melendez-Schulz collaborations of the Johnson-Nixon era. For my money, the classic Peanuts holiday trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, remain the gold standard for children’s animated programming. However earnest they may be, they are surprisingly tart for that pre-“Simpsons” period, and truthful about human nature.
As you might guess, Snoopy gets roped – almost literally – into being a circus dog, performing tricks for the unwashed masses. Notably, “Life” is less talky than other Peanuts specials, and I miss the witty, deadpan one-liners that have become a trademark of the series. And I’m not spilling any beans by informing you that Snoops returns to his ‘master’ – does anybody really call Snoopy’s shots? – in the climax, and all seems right with the world. By the ‘80s, however, and with mighty respect to Bill Melendez, Peanuts television oeuvre could only be viewed as diminishing returns.
Also present in the Extras package is a nearly 30-minute documentary about the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, an indoor skating complex that Schulz and his wife constructed for the city of Santa Rosa, which includes some home footage of the Schulz family. An odd fit with the two animated shorts, but I suspect that Schulz devotees are still hungry for any tidbits about the artist’s life, any window into his everyday concerns.
Finally, we also get two trailers: the animated adaptation of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, which piques my curiosity slightly, and a n advertisement for LEGO’s bizarre new interactive game, featuring traditional LEGO figures as Harry Potter characters! A weird, campy bit of brand synergy there. Thirty years hence, collector geeks will be combing Ebay for copies of the game, if that monopolistic titan is still fleecing customers.
The common thread between He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown and Life Is A Circus, Charlie Brown is the prominence of Snoopy, and surely it’s no coincidence that these two programs are grouped together on a single disc. Undeniably, Snoopy is the megastar of the Peanuts cartoons, and I can’t imagine them without his antic persona. He’s a canine Lucy Ricardo, intent on realizing his full potential, whether swinging on a trapeze, gunning down the Baron, or wrestling a recalcitrant lawn chair. His dreams are far less grandiose than Walter Mitty’s, but unlike that frustrated dreamer, Snoopy tries to live his fantasies. Still, like any loyal canine, Daisy Hill’s most famous scion always finds his way back to his doghouse.