Review: "Snoopy's Adventures", "Yo Gabba Gabba! Circus", & "Heroes of Bikini Bottom"
The Happiness Is..Peanuts: Snoopy’s Adventures DVD has a title well out of proportion to its slight contents. This 46 minute disc contains one Snoopy-centric episode of 1985’s The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show and the TV special Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown from the same year. Those familiar with the Peanuts TV specials from that time period will know exactly what to expect. The former is broken into 3 chapters: “Snoopy’s Leg,” lifted from a comic strip story involving Snoopy breaking his foot and then getting traded to Peppermint Patty’s baseball team; “Giant,” which retells “Jack and the Beanstalk” with Snoopy and Woodstock; and “Rerun,” featuring the misadventures of Linus and Lucy’s baby brother (and which I recall being a semi-regular feature of the TV show at the time). Of the three, “Giant” is probably the most impressive, since it’s all conducted without a word of dialogue and the giant himself looks like a caricature of longtime Peanuts animation director Bill Melendez. The other two as mildly amusing as the Peanuts TV specials that borrow heavily from average storylines from the comic strip. Snoopy’s Getting Married also recycles material from the strip, as a night as Peppermint Patty’s guard dog leads Snoopy to meet the love of his life, compelling the Peanuts gang (including Snoopy’s brother Spike) to prepare for the upcoming canine nuptials. It’s also par for the course for the 1980’s Peanuts specials, using comic strip comedic timing over animation comedic timing and only managing to be fitfully entertaining. The one significant improvement changes the ending to make at least one character come off much better. There is nothing on this disc other than these specials and a handful of trailers, although the specials all seem to have been remastered with the same care as all the recent Peanuts animated DVDs. Still, coming off the high of Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, this DVD is a disappointment.
The latest Yo Gabba Gabba! DVD, “Circus,” is also more or less exactly what you would expect, but in this case, that’s a good thing because it means we get more brightly colored silliness with much better music than one would expect for a pre-schooler’s show. The title episode guest stars “Weird Al” Yankovic as an ever-so-slightly warped circus ringmaster and Sarah Silverman leading a mime-themed “Dancey Dance” segment. Both fit in to Gabbaland perfectly, making their guest-starring roles just extra spice for the supervising adults who recognize them. In contrast, Fred Armisen and Charlyne Yi in “Treasure” are nowhere near as successful because they never seem to get over their self-consciousness as a pair of treasure-hunting robots. “Flying” lends itself to some wonderfully psychedelic imagery throughout the episode (especially in the “Super Music Friends Show” with Chairlift), and its guest stars are limited to a “Dancey Dance Time” segment. It is also worth remarking on the variation on the famed “The Red Balloon” short and for Biz Markie’s costume for the “Biz’s Beat of the Day” segment. Finally, “Fun” delivers exactly what the tittle promises thanks to an opening reprise of the famous “Party in My Tummy” song; the wonderfully weird “Listen” animated music video; “Super Music Friends Show” band the Aggrolites singing a spirited reggae paean to bananas; Foofa, Toodee, and Brobee showing how to make music without instruments; and Plex leading the gang in the “Get the Sillies Out” song-and-dance number. As with all the other Yo Gabba Gabba DVDs (and, for that matter, nearly every other Nickelodeon DVD release), there are no bonuses other than trailers and no chapter stops within episodes. Still, since Nickelodeon still seems to think (wrongly, in my opinion) that there is no market for Yo Gabba Gabba DVD season sets, getting any Yo Gabba Gabba on DVD is better than not getting it, and this one is definitely one of the keepers.
Now is as good a time as any to say that I’ve come around to Nick’s way of doing “Fast Play.” Rather than slowing things down by trying to tell you how fast their “Fast Play” feature makes things (as Disney and Lionsgate do), Nick DVDs just start playing all episodes on their own if left alone for a few minutes. I found this annoying at first, but I’ve since come around to it (other than my thinking that it should probably stop after one playthrough rather than just starting over forever) since it gives a harried parent one less thing to worry about when trying to get the kids something to watch for a while.
I missed the peak creative period of SpongeBob SquarePants, but I can see enough of it on his latest DVD Heroes of Bikini Bottom to understand why people like(d) it as much as they do. Of course, this might be because the first two episodes on this DVD aim their satire at the nonsense that drives superheroes—a genre for which I have a long and heavily documented affection and which I can laugh at just as easily. “Back to the Past” shows what happens when one mixes up a time machine, SpongeBob and Patrick, their heroes Mermaidman and Barnacle Boy (voiced by Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway in the present and Adam West and Burt Ward in the past), and their arch-nemesis Man Ray (which triggered an appropriately avant-garde giggle out of me). It’s a wonderful send-up of superhero time-travel stories, and the fact that none of it makes any sense is the point rather than an unfortunate unintended consequence. The ending was also warped enough to draw a big laugh out of me at the sheer preposterousness of it all. Similarly, “The Bad Guy Club for Villains” is an amusing sendup of Justice League or Avengers-style team-ups, coming up with some hilariously mixed up superheroes. The positive vibes of the first two episodes probably carried over to the remaining six, since I found them much more amusing than the episodes on The Great Patty Caper. Of them, three are good enough to warrant mention. “Yours, Mine, and Mine” takes a simple germ of an idea (Patrick isn’t very good at sharing) and spins out dozens of funny variations on that theme for the entire episode. “A Day Without Tears” notes how often SpongeBob ends up a crying over something, resulting in a bet between SpongeBob and Squidward that the former can’t make it for a day without bawling. The results are, of course, quite predictable, but the fun comes in watching how they get there. “Summer Job” feels a whole lot like a classic Looney Tunes short, and this is intended as a compliment of the highest order. The short revolves entirely around SpongeBob inadvertently torturing the driving school instructor Mrs. Puff, and its entertainment value comes from watching her slowly being driven mad by his idiot antics. It’s akin to what Daffy Duck would do to Porky Pig or Bugs Bunny would do to Elmer Fudd (or even what the Marx Brothers would do to a succession of straight men), and the second-generation comedic DNA is still potent enough to deliver plenty of laughs.
As Nickelodeon’s current flagship character, SpongeBob seems to get better treatment on DVD than anyone else in the stable (including Dora the Explorer). While there are still no chapter stops within episodes, SpongeBob episodes are short enough that they’d be pointless anyway, especially since the DVD is already arranged to do a “marathon play” with the opening credits once at the start of the disc and all the end credits running together after all the episodes. Compared to most Nick DVDs, Heroes of Bikini Bottom is positively loaded with bonus features. Three SpongeBob shorts are included, along with one full episode of T.U.F.F. Puppy. The shorts are only mildly amusing but at least they don’t run long enough to wear out their welcome. I wish I could say the same for T.U.F.F. Puppy, but I found the gag pretty threadbare despite it’s febrile flailing. Still, it’s brightly colored and I laughed a few times, so it’s not a complete washout. It’s Get Smart with less wit and no off-color jokes, but I’m sure the kids born too late to watch that classic sitcom in syndication will find T.U.F.F. Puppy much more entertaining than I do.