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Monday, September 28, 2015


Here's another "Peanuts" DVD collection that most kids (and many adults) should greet with open eyeballs.  HE'S A BULLY, CHARLIE BROWN offers a trio of complete half-hour cartoons from across the spectrum (1969-2006), and all three are examples of the "Peanuts" production team at or near the top of their game.

"He's a Bully, Charlie Brown":

This pleasant little 2006 episode in the Charlie Brown saga harkens back to the earlier cartoons with its reworked Vince Guaraldi score, bucolic atmosphere, and a simple premise that just about any kid can identify with.

There's some nice voice work, and the animation is good despite some of the digital touches looking a bit obvious such as when the bus to camp performs a 360-degree turn that's just too smooth. 

The early focus here is on the character of Rerun, who discovers a jar of colorful marbles in the attic which belonged to his Grandpa Felix, a marbles champion.  Rerun becomes fixated on being a marbles champ himself, which is important since the titular bully of the cartoon, Joe Agate, whom we'll meet later when the gang go to summer camp, is a marbles shark.

I never really considered Rerun to be an official Peanuts character.  He's apocryphal to me, just a hinky decision Charles Schulz made without really thinking about it.  Although here, he's effective enough if I just pretend that he's a young Linus.  He's kind of like the Cousin Oliver of Peanuts.

Poor little Rerun's the one who gets the brunt of the bully's cruelty in this story.  We know Joe Agate is a bully because he's drawn with heavily-lidded eyes and a surly sneer, and we know he's a marbles shark because, well, he's named after a marble. (I know nothing about shooting marbles and even I knew that an agate is a kind of marble. Yay, me.) Anyway, the story wastes no time in establishing his villainy when he harrasses Charlie Brown and Snoopy right off the bus and cackles wickedly after every misdeed. 

Even worse, he takes advantage of innocent little Rerun by offering to help teach him how to shoot marbles and then winning every one of his marbles including the prized shooter than belonged to Grampa Felix.

It's all pretty predictable, but then again, I think kids prefer for this kind of story to be predictable.  Come to think of it, so do I.  When you watch a Charlie Brown cartoon there are certain things you want it to do, certain beats you want it to hit, and when it does, it hits the spot. 

"It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown":

While "He's a Bully, Charlie Brown" reminds one of the earlier, better Peanuts cartoons, "It Was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown" IS one of the earlier, better cartoons. In fact, it's from way back in 1969 when they were in their prime, which is always a good thing. 

Vince Guaraldi is on hand to perform his famous musical themes himself.  Peter Robbins and Pamelyn Ferdin even do the voices of Charlie Brown and Lucy.  And it's written by Charles Schulz before he started to run out of good ideas for these things.

It starts out with the gang looking forward to the cool stuff they're going to do over summer vacation, when suddenly all of that is ruined when Lucy announces she's signed everyone up for summer camp.  (Why they're compelled to go along with this is never made clear.)  Everyone's devastated, especially Linus who's convinced that he's going to get chomped by a queen snake. 

I never went to summer camp as a kid but all the summer camp stories I saw over the years kind of made me wish I could've gone to summer camp.  This is a bit contradictory since most summer camp stories make summer camp look like a living hell for kids.  My big brother went to scout camp one summer, though, and it looked like fun.  Then again, just about anything that the big kids did looked like fun.

This is old school Peanuts in which Charlie Brown is at his most downcast and depressed for much of the running time.  Everything he does is a failure--even his attempts at the simple pleasure of roasting marshmallows results in one blackened, inedible glob after another while his dog Snoopy easily roasts several at a time on a multi-pronged stick.  This is the Charlie Brown that people with severe emotional problems and feelings of utter inadequacy can really latch on to.

Aside from its positive aspects, the main drawback of this cartoon for me is that the old trope of the girls inexplicably being better than the boys at everything and beating them handily in every competition is amusing for about a minute, but when you base the whole cartoon on this it tends to get a little tiresome. 

Why in the world would the boys who are watching this cartoon want to see themselves portrayed as a bunch of hopelessly inept buffoons?  I never got that.  It's nice to give girls a little positive reinforcement now and then, but good grief, there's a limit.  The only thing that makes this even remotely believable is that the girls have Peppermint Patty drilling them into shape. 

The ending, while somewhat abrupt, at least rectifies this a bit at the last minute although once again it's Snoopy to the rescue.

"Snoopy: Team Manager":

Finally, this mid-period entry from the 80s (with the onscreen title "The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show") is a grab bag of short episodes, again written by Schulz, that are pleasanty low-concept little slices of Peanuts life.

It's nothing world-shaking, but it doesn't try to be.  The first tale, "Shoveling", is simply Lucy starting a garden and getting Linus and Snoopy to do all the actual work for her. 

"Re-Run" shows us how Lucy and Linus' baby brother fares during his daily jaunts sitting in the kids' seat on back of his Mom's bicycle.  This largely superfluous mini-clone of Linus offers his running commentary on potholes, veering too close to trucks and trees, and falling into bushes when Mom forgets to put the kickstand down.

"Lost Blanket" is like something right out of a week's worth of Peanuts comic strips with Linus mailing his security blanket to himself when he learns that his blanket-hating grandmother is coming for a visit.  He panics when it doesn't show up in the mail for several days, worrying that it has ended up somewhere on the other side of the globe or something.  It's classic Peanuts.

And so is "The Manager", yet another tale of Charlie Brown's travails as the coach of his baseball team which has never won a game.  In hopes of changing this, Charlie Brown passes on his manager's cap to Snoopy, whose crabbiness alienates everyone while failing to improve the team's luck.  This one is so old school that it even manages to include Lucy's celebrated "He's alway changing rainbows" line. 

The DVD from Warner Home Entertainment is in full screen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in various languages.  No extras besides trailers for other cartoon DVDs from Warners.

HE'S A BULLY, CHARLIE BROWN is a triple dose of Peanuts fun that you'll want to introduce your kids to if they haven't already met Charlie Brown and the gang.  Their low-key, relatively cerebral ambience will be a welcome contrast to much of the raucous nonsense that passes for kids' cartoons these days. 

Buy it at the
Street date: October 6, 2015


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