"Peanuts 1970's Collection Vol. 2" - The Late 70's Were Good to You, Charlie Brown
The Peanuts 1970’s Collection Vol. 2 collects six more Peanuts TV specials from the back-half of the decade, giving each the same careful audio and video remastering as on previous sets. These specials were among the best American animation you’d be able to find in the 1970’s, and that’s not meant to be damning with faint praise since most of their competition was coming from Hanna-Barbera in its decline, Ruby-Spears, and Filmation. Still, the specials have held up remarkably well over time, and while only one of the specials on this disc merits the “classic” label, they’re almost all pleasant enough diversions and stay true to Charles Schulz’s enduring comic strip. If nothing else, the selection of specials on this set ends up being much more satisfying than the ones on the first 1970’s collection.
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown is the only other Peanuts special that can begin to compete with the likes of A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It curdles the usual squishy sentiments associated with Valentine’s Day using the unrequited love that Schulz used frequently as a theme in the Peanuts comic strip. This frequently used theme makes this special a natural fit, even if the results are almost the opposite of what you’d expect for a Valentine’s Day special. Every single character in the show is frustrated in their aspiration for the day, almost inevitably because they openly refuse to listen to anybody else or resolutely ignore the obvious. Like the Christmas and Halloween specials, Be My Valentine leaves an indelible mark, although it ends up being more of a bruise than a lipstick trace.
You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown was inspired by a series of strips that came about from Schulz’s son’s love for motocross. The Peanuts gang discovers the motor sport thanks to Peppermint Patty, with an extended race being the showcase of the episode. It’s not a bad special, although it does feel a bit thin. The most notable thing about You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown is that it’s the first of the TV specials that truly breaks away from the four-panel gag strip comedic timing that marked nearly all the specials before it, even though it’s based on a story from the newspaper strips. Be My Valentine begins to step away from that comedic timing, but You’re a Good Sport is the first special that breaks away from it for good, turning in gags that work better in animation or that wouldn’t play out at all on the printed page.
It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown attempts to capitalize on Arbor Day, a small-time holiday that was the proto-Earth Day, but which focused on trees and was left entirely ignored and unexploited as a marketing phenomenon by vast corporate interests concerned with only one kind of “green” (and if I sound bitter, it’s because I am). The obscurity of the holiday even drives the opening joke of the special, as Sally announces to her class (and to her embarrassment) that it’s the day to celebrate “ships going into the arbor.” It’s a gag that turns out to mean one thing then and something entirely different now. However, this special doesn’t really have much to do with the holiday, either, focusing instead on the aftermath when Lucy whips the gang into an Arbor Day frenzy that ends up turning the baseball field into an orchard and a garden. There is some funny schtick to be found, for sure, but I think there’s a reason I never remembered anything about this special beyond Sally’s opening gag. Of historical note is that this is the last Peanuts special scored by Vince Guaraldi, who died suddenly of a heart attack in 1976.
Disc 2 begins with What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown, appearing for the first time on DVD. The special might be better titled, The Call of the Wild Starring Snoopy, or We’re Going to Torment Your Dog for 20 Minutes, Charlie Brown. An excess of pizza results in an extended nightmare for Snoopy, where he faces life as an Arctic Circle sled dog—a stark change from his pampered life as a suburban pet. It’s a surprisingly effective special, as Snoopy gradually loses his city slicker ways and embraces his inner wild dog to become the head of the pack. However, it’s also a truly bizarre twist to the usual formula, skewing much more overtly dark than any other Peanuts special. In the end, it turns out to be an interesting and surprisingly successful experiment, albeit a somewhat upsetting one, and one I’m glad they never really attempted to repeat. On a personal note, I find it interesting that I reacted mostly with amusement as a child when this special first aired, but view it rather differently as an adult. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall while they were developing this one.
It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown is by far the weakest special on this set. It is founded on the anxiety Charlie Brown faces when he has to escort the Little Red Haired girl at the homecoming dance and kiss her on the dance floor. The entire premise just seems like a cheap way to fabricate a situation that Charlie Brown would never be able to get into on his own, never explained and resolved in perhaps the most unsatisfying way possible. Putting the Little Red Haired Girl on screen also seems like a bad idea, since she’s a lot less interesting as a concrete character than as Charlie Brown’s unattainable ideal. The bulk of the special is taken up with the homecoming football game—another misfire that casts Charlie Brown as a scapegoat rather than his usual born loser role. Charlie Brown’s missed kicks are caused, as always, by Lucy pulling away the football at the last minute, but everyone on the team blames him and only him for costing them the game anyway. It’s much crueler than Peanuts is normally, and makes for an especially sour note in a special that’s slightly off-key to begin with.
The last special is You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown, which seems to capitalize on the popularity of the Olympic Decathlon caused by then-celebrity athlete Bruce Jenner. Charlie Brown is drafted by Peppermint Patty to compete in the decathlon for the school’s Junior Olympics, where he seems to thrive despite all expectations. His competition consists of Peppermint Patty’s backup, Marcie; the “Masked Marvel” (a poorly disguised Snoopy, especially since he adopted the same persona in You’re a Good Sport; and the obnoxious Freddie Fabulous from Fremont. It’s a pleasant enough special, about on par with You’re a Good Sport, but nothing terribly memorable.
I have come to appreciate these collected sets more since first looking at the 1960’s collection. While it’s true that they end up duplicating a lot of material that’s already on the deluxe edition DVDs, the deluxe DVDs usually don’t remaster the bonus specials while the collected sets do. Only What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown is new to DVD; Be My Valentine got its own deluxe edition DVD with It’s Your First Kiss as a bonus; the Arbor Day special is on the Easter Beagle Deluxe DVD; and You’re a Good Sport got its own deluxe DVD with You’re the Greatest as a bonus. Specials that were bonus features on earlier discs are finally remastered on this collection, and the results are as good as those on earlier releases. Warner Home Video is certainly doing right by these lesser-known specials that probably couldn’t sustain their own deluxe DVD releases, even including chapter stops within each special. However, it is worth pointing out that some of the original dialogue has been digitally garbled (one line in the Arbor Day special and two in First Kiss), ostensibly to soften some of the mean-spiritedness of the characters. The former change is non-sensical, and the latter change completely fails to take the edge off the inherent nastiness, so the decision to garble the dialogue seems like it would only confuse the average viewer and anger the purists.
Unfortunately, this set continues the trend of disappointing bonus featurettes on these decade-themed collections, with “You’re Groovy, Charlie Brown” ostensibly examining Peanuts in the 1970’s. However, the special is really just a collection of people talking about Schulz and the strip in general, with appearances by Schulz’s widow Jean and son Craig, cartoonist Alexis Farjado (Kid Beowulf), Creative Director of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates/cartoonist Paige Braddock (Jane’s World), and TV special producer Lee Mendelson (who was either filmed on poor-quality film stock or is shown in older footage). The special barely mentions the decade, often discussing events and characters that were introduced to the strip in the 1960’s and never really dealing with any of the specials on this set or the decade in any depth. The most interesting part of the featurette is probably Braddock discussing Schulz’s pens of choice and how they affected the line work of the strip, although this is strictly information for the hard-core. The best thing to say about this bonus feature is that Warner Home Video gives it a proper anamorphic widescreen presentation, vs. the filmed-in-widescreen, shown-in-4:3 bonus about Vince Guaraldi on the 1960’s set.
In a way, it’s kind of unfair that all Peanuts specials have to be compared to A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Both of those specials are genuinely sublime, and not many TV programs are in the same league as either one. The overwhelming majority of the Peanuts specials are high-quality diversions that are only disappointing in comparison to the high-water marks of those two earlier specials, with something like Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown being the exception that proves the rule. This second 1970’s collection is a good fit for the casual Peanuts fan or animation fan, who probably skipped the standalone DVDs like You’re a Good Sport or Easter Beagle. The hardcore fans who do own all those deluxe edition DVDs are again left paying twice for material that they already own, although the fully remastered bonus specials, the absent featurettes from the Deluxe DVDs, the rare What a Nightmare special, and the relatively low price tag of this set make it an easier pill to swallow.