Charlie Brown and I were born the same year--1950--so I've always felt a certain kinship. It was also comforting as I went through my own childhood episodes of unrequited love to know that somebody--Charlie--had it worse. Much worse. If I was feeling a bit glum that the decorated shoebox I made with such care was stuffed with less than a handful of valentines by the end of the class party, it was some consolation that poor Charlie never got any valentines.
And of course, that was the whole point. Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" was the first comic strip to deal with feelings and emotions, and Schulz relied on his own childhood to produce a series of comics that just about every kid could identify with. Charlie made everyone feel better, whether it was his acute shyness with the opposite sex, his lack of athletic ability, his misunderstandings with teachers, or any other number of his hapless Everyman traits.
This remastered Deluxe Edition of "Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" features the title made-for-TV feature plus two others: "You're in Love, Charlie Brown," and "It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown."
There's also an all-new featurette, "Unlucky in Love: An Unrequited Love Story" that reminds us how the Charlie Brown TV specials were the collaborative work of four people: the brilliant cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, producer Lee Mendelson, animator/producer/director Bill Melendez, and director Phil Roman. For 38 years this group worked together on the "Peanuts" features, and this disc gives us two that Roman directed and one that Melendez directed, with all of them written by Schulz.
"Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown" first aired in 1975. To my mind, it's the strongest of the three, because the pacing is perfect and there are no weak gags. Roman directed this one and 15 other Charlie Brown features for television, including "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown" (1974), with his first one coming in 1973 ("A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving") and his last one in 1983 ("Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?"). Though the circumstances of school Valentine's Day parties may have changed, this 25-minute feature still strikes a chord with children. They can still identify with Charlie Brown's anxiety, and the drawing and animation is a strong as that distinctive "Peanuts" jazz-piano music.
In this feature, Charlie Brown waits by his mailbox for his first valentine. At school, where the valentines are distributed at the party, he has to wait even longer, because as usual there are none for him. Even the little ones pick up on the wry humor. While Charlie Brown is awaiting a valentine from anyone, Linus has a crush on his teacher, Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, has a crush on Linus, and Lucy, meanwhile, is still set on marrying the brooding and talented tiny pianist, Schroeder. She sprawls like a lounge singer against his piano, reading to him about Valentine's Day as he plays Beethoven. The slapstick comes, as always, from Charlie Brown's dog, Snoopy, who puts on a one-man show that victimizes his only audience member, Lucy, with splashed water, doused garbage, and a sound beating by his two puppets. Snoopy also can't seem to fight the love-hate impulse to cut out a heart valentine for Woodstock, the bird, and slap in right onto his beak. Put it all together and this one is a highly entertaining feature.
"It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown" (1977) was also directed by Roman, and it features some of the classic moments where Charlie Brown tries to impress the little red-headed girl by being a football hero. But he's the kicker, and his holder is somebody who isn't exactly his biggest fan. Lucy's yanking the ball just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it is like pulling a chair out from under someone when he's trying to sit down. Only in this case it's a legendary comic scene that's been dramatized for television. Charlie Brown is scheduled to have his moment in the sun as the escort for the homecoming queen (who just happens to be his dream-girl, the little red-headed girl). Will Lucy sabotage the whole thing? This feature is less episodic than the title feature, with a more straightforward plot. And it's also highly entertaining.
"You're in Love, Charlie Brown" (1967) was nominated for three Emmys. This one by Bill Melendez--the first non-holiday Charlie Brown special--zooms in on Charlie Brown in the last days of spring, right before school is about to dismiss for the summer. He's just got to tell the little red-haired girl how he feels . . . or he'll burst. Peppermint Patty drifts into town and has all sorts of advice for "Chuck," but even that's not enough, as CB goes to Lucy's "Psychiatric Help" booth, where a session of therapy costs just five cents. Of course, you get what you pay for, as Lucy tends to berate her sad-sack client. Besides this one, Melendez directed 23 other Charlie Brown made-for-TV features, as well as several for the big screen.
All of the Charlie Brown features for television closely follow the original comics that inspired them, and with Schulz doing the writing you know they're going to capture the spirit of the "Peanuts" gang. The difference lies in the small details. The title feature is superior because of the background details and the humor that clicks with every joke. "You're in Love, Charlie Brown" doesn't have the same level of detail and energy, which is a product of its age, and the colors are a bit faded now, due to aging. It's interesting, though, to see how far Charlie Brown has come in 10 years . . . and how his world has remained basically the same. When you watch these three films it's hard to believe that the characters are voiced by different actors. Duncan Watson is Charlie in the title feature, for example, while Arrin Skelley handles the role in "It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown," and Peter Robbins plays Charlie in "You're in Love, Charlie Brown." Never once do you question the voices, and that's either a testimony to the mimicry talents of the voice actors or a tribute to Schulz's drawing and characters. They're so strong, so iconic, all of them, that our focus is on the visuals, not the sound.
These short, 24-25 minute features have been remastered in High Definition and they look as good as I've seen them. Except for the entry from 1967, the colors in these are bright and well-saturated, and the level of detail for a DVD is quite good. The aspect ratio, as one might expect, is 1.33:1.
The audio is a simple Dolby Digital Mono, nothing fancy, but it's at least a fairly "round" Mono, with a nice timbre rather than a flat sound.
The only bonus feature is okay, but it's not as focused as the title might lead you to believe. "Unlucky in Love: An Unrequited Love Story" offers a typical blend of talking heads and clips, except this one is also rich in comic strips and panels. The most significant of the speakers are Schulz's widow, Jean, and adult son, Craig, as well as animation partners Lee Mendelson and Phil Roman. All of them talk conceptually about the characters and their appeal, rather than only focusing on the Valentine's Day theme or on Charlie Brown's love problems. There's nothing of a revelation here if you've read books on the "Peanuts"/Schulz phenomenon or see other features. Half of this one feels like a tribute (from other comic-strip artists and creative talents like Jonathan Franzen), while the other half feels like psychoanalytic criticism. Some of the more interesting moments come from a split screen that juxtaposes the original comics against clips from the TV features.
You can't go wrong with Snoopy or Charlie Brown, and this trio of unrequited love stories still has plenty of appeal for kids of all ages--including adults. The more you see Schulz's work, the more you can appreciate the powerful simplicity of the "Peanuts" strip, and understand why the characters have become so iconic.