Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Journey Into DVD: Charle Brown and Friends

(Editor's Note: 'Mooners Monday will return next week. On Monday.)

This is a single-disc repackaging of material from the Peanuts: 1970s Collection DVD set. It consists of 3 half-hour animated specials originally aired on CBS in the late 1970s along with a featurette.

It's great to see the holiday-themed Peanuts specials every year, but there were tons of other ones on TV back in the day. It's a shame they don't get much play, and it's also a shame that Warner Brothers has released these in confusing subpackages rather than going with affordable comprehensive collections, BUT if you  look hard enough, you can find the old stuff and enjoy it today on DVD.

This particular disc reminds you that the Peanuts specials were weird. We sort of chuckle at the quirks of the holiday ones because we've seen them over and over again, but when you revisit some of these lesser-known efforts, you scratch your head sometimes.

The first special is What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown! There may not be too many children's animated specials prominently featuring the word "nightmare," but does it really surprise you that Peanuts would give you one of them?

This is a bizarre half-hour focused on an odd dream Snoopy has. It starts when Charlie Brown, apparently in one of those moods, decides he wants Snoopy to guide him around like a sled dog. When his pet isn't up to the intense  physical exertion needed to do that, Chuck berates him and says he's too civilized, etc., etc.

Snoopy often comes off as aloof and not all  that likable in the specials, but here Charlie is a real jerk, and it's no wonder his poor dog has a nightmare about actually becoming a sled dog. 

The day Charlie went from proletariat to bourgeoise

Snoop has all kinds of adventures, including working in, performing in, and playing poker in a saloon, before he "goes savage"  to become the lead dog in a pack. If you ever wanted to see Snoopy give menacing growls, bare his teeth, and get into a fierce struggle with a "realistic"-looking dog, here's your chance!

I think *I'm* having nightmares after seeing these images

The other two specials are more conventional. It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown spotlights a football game, and it's refreshing to see a team sport besides baseball. It may be a mistake watching it right after Nightmare, though; after seeing Charlie act like such a tool in that one, I was actually rooting for Lucy to pull the football away from him so he would fall on his duff.

Oh, and how old are these kids? First Kiss delves into the anxiety caused by boys and girls exchanging a smooch, but to do so, it sets up big football games, homecoming courts, and all the things you expect to see from a high school.  Actually, even many high school probably don't have the budgets to do all the stuff Charlie's school does in this one.

You don't see these kinds of parades on Thanksgiving, these days

You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown shows Chuck entering the Junior Olympics, specifically the decathlon, and screwing things up in classic Charlie fashion. Along the way, we see the Masked Marvel, a surprising bit of business from Marcie, and even a Bruce Jenner reference.  My favorite line is Peppermint Patty, trying to encourage her pal, calling Charlie "Chucko." His puzzled "Chucko?" response is classic.

Why, Marcie!

Added value comes in the form of the 18-minute featurette You're Groovy, Charlie Brown: A Look at Peanuts in the 70's." No, this is not footage of the Peanuts gang gettin' down to the sweet sounds of fuzz guitar. It's more a general overview of the strip, the production of the specials, and especially creator Charles M. Schulz. It's a nice look at Peanuts, though, and a welcome bonus on the DVD.

These aren't on the level of the perennial holiday favorites we've come to know and love, but they represent a significant portion of the Peanuts legacy and are part of TV history as well. These specials are fun, if a little out there at times, and deserve wider exposure.

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