I am a Peanuts fanatic. Been a fan since I was a kid. Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and the gang both entertained and informed me growing up. Because of this, I have always had a soft spot for any Peanuts television special. If I’m channel surfing and I happen to come across one, I will watch it to the end. So I finally got the chance to sit down this weekend and watch the most recent special, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, which both debuted on t.v. and was released on DVD last year. Although there have been a few specials since the passing of Peanuts‘ Creator Charles Schulz in 2000, this is the first one to be made without the involvement Bill Melendez (who has also passed away) or Lee Mendelson Productions. But be that as it may, the goal of the talent involved in this project was to bring back some authenticity to the Brand. To ensure this, it was decided to return to a 196o’s style and universe for the characters: Shermy, Violet, and the Original Patty, characters who haven’t been around since the early specials, are once again a part of the cast. Character that were later additions like Peppermint Patty, Marcie, and Franklin, are no where to be found. So did this return to Charlie Brown’s Roots pay off?
The story revolves around Linus and his most favorite thing in the world, his little blue blanket. As everybody who’s read or watched Peanuts knows, Linus takes the blanket everywhere with him and feels anxious and uncomfortable when he is parted from it. It’s this character trait that prompted the phrase “security blanket” in the pop-culture lexicon. Well, Linus’ days with his precious may be numbered as his grandmother is coming to town and Lucy is dead set on him to getting rid of the blanket before she gets here. In numerous attempts to “cure’ Linus of his dependency, Lucy tries a tough love approach that’s devoid of the love part. She buries the blanket, makes a kite out of it and sends it flying through the air, etc. But all the while, Linus finds ways to get the blanket back. The climax comes when Linus must define what this blanket means to him and confront his sister and his friends on it. There are also two subplots that fit into the story: Lucy continues to pine for the affections of Schroeder and Pig Pen is ridiculed by almost the entire cast to change his ways and clean up his act. Neither of these subplots jump out at you right away and each take their time to reveal how they connect to the main story.
The animation of the film is first rate. It definitely has a nostalgic feel to it but even though it goes for a classic style, this is probably the most fluid animation I have ever seen from a Peanuts special. That may have something to do with the film’s animation director, Andrew Beall, who worked as the fix animation lead on Pixar instant Classics WALL-E and Up. The highlight of the entire film is a flashback sequence involving Charlie Brown thinking back to the many times he’s been picked on. Beall goes for a simplistic colour scheme and design that has a strong impact. This guide of “less is more” is applied throughout the special, leading to some great comedic and dramatic moments.
The thing that really stands out about this film is that it is the first Peanuts special in at least 2 decades that actually gets to the heart of its characters. The major problem with the specials that have come out after Shulz’s death have been that they felt hallow. There was no message to the stories being told. They came off more like a series of vignettes as opposed to a full story. This one does not suffer from that problem. This can be credited to screen writer Stephan Pasties. Pasties has been a successful cartoonist in his own right with his syndicated strip, Pearls Before Swine. He saw the writing this special not as a script but as a model that he was building from the preexisting Peanuts strips. He was able to find the heart of the strips he was given and crafted a strong through-line narrative that made this special seem more than just a series of one-liners. It delivered a message that had some meaning, which is why we enjoyed the original specials in the first place.
As always, the voice cast is made up of real children, something that the makers of the Peanuts specials have stuck to since day one. And, for the most part, they’re all bang on. That is with the exception of Charlie Brown. Trenton Rogers, who has had steady work as an actor since the age of 4, did double duty on this cartoon as the voices of both Schroeder and Charlie Brown. While his Schroeder is top notch and harkens back to previous incarnations of the character, his Charlie Brown is a miss. Although the character is a sad sack, Trenton’s delivery is a bit too monotone. Because of this, Charlie Brown feels more like a serial killer than a little kid. A creepy undertone resides in the performance. This was obviously the result of a bad voice direction. They probably should’ve told him to lighten up a bit when doing the lines. But other than that, the voices all work. And to be honest, the creepy Charlie Brown voice grew on me by the end of it.
The DVD comes with a half dozen special features that quickly break down the creative choices for the special. They cover the script, voice acting, and animation. There’s even an animatic for a deleted Pig Pen scene. Not the best extras when compared to the other Peanuts releases, but still informative.
I am happy to say that Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown is the best Peanuts special of the past decade and the creative team behind it can be proud that they did good by this long standing franchise. If Sparky were still alive, he’s be overjoyed by the love that was shown to Snoopy, Linus, and his many other great creations. Pick up a copy of this DVD today.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!