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Retro Peanuts DVD Review: “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown”

Retro Peanuts DVD Review: "Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown"

“I think if you’re going to
draw a comic strip every day, you have to draw upon every experience in your
own life. I don’t see any other way of doing it. You have to put almost your
every thought, your every memory, your every experience and your desires…into
the strip. Otherwise, there’s no place else to draw from for the ideas.”

 

These words of Charles M.
Schulz open the bonus documentary that accompanies the DVD premiere of the last–and
most personal–of the four Peanuts feature films released during his lifetime. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come
Back!) 
is a 1980 theatrical film that takes Charlie Brown and company to Europe. The Chateau
du Mal Voisin (Chateau of the Bad Neighbor)
is a real location—a place where a young Schulz stayed during his service in
World War II. So is the café where he played foosball, as Snoopy does in the
film.

 

Because of that–and also
due to the efforts to set the features apart from each other as well as from
the TV specials–Bon Voyage, Charlie
Brown
has a moody, romantic tone, especially in the second half. The first
half of the film is taken up by the gang using various forms of transportation
to get from place to place, accented by scenic vistas that convey the feeling
of actual places but within the realm of Schulz’s specific style.

 

This film came along as the
specials and the strip began to de-emphasize some of the Peanuts characters,
particularly Lucy, in favor of Peppermint Patty and Marcie. A richly defined
character, straddling aggression and vulnerability, Patty takes center stage often
in the film. One of her best scenes is also the simplest (and comes directly
from the strip), in which she brings Charlie Brown to a slow boil during a day
in a French school.

 

The film is also significant
for its use of adult characters. While the cranky uncle is seen in silhouette,
the schoolteacher, cab driver and luggage handler are seen full figure. Adult
actors speak the lines instead of a “wah-wah” trombone. This ushered in an era of Peanuts projects with darker tones and occasional adult characters, most notably in the 1989-90 This is America, Charlie Brown miniseries.

 

The DVD transfer is fine,
except for some slight “wow” in the music at the start. Especially welcome is
bonus documentary that details the locations and inspirations behind the film, as
well as the other Peanuts film released by Paramount, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (the first two Peanuts features,
which were not released by Paramount, are given a brief mention). The short
documentary is also significant in that it mentions Dean Spille and Bill
Littlejohn, artists usually overlooked in such accounts.

 

Strings are at the forefront
of the musical score, with a few wistful, atmospheric vocals (in addition to
three WWII-era pop hits that Snoopy enjoys at the café). Evocative, ballads and
string sections would also figure prominently in future specials, like She’s a
Good Skate, Charlie Brown
.


Speaking of that cartoon,
it’s one of nine included on the new release, Peanuts Emmy Honored Collection.With the exception of
“You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown”, which earned its own self-titled DVD, six
of the previously released specials on the set were bonus episodes on earlier
DVD’s: “Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown”, “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie
Brown”, “Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?” “Someday You’ll Find Her, Charlie
Brown”, “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown”, “Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown”, “She’s
a Good Skate, Charlie Brown”
and “You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown”.

 

Two highly acclaimed dramatic
Peanuts specials make their DVD debut: “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?” and “What
Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?”
There must have been some careful thought
given to the way these “very special episodes” were marketed to the general
public. Why? Charlie Brown, Why? deals with Linus’s experiences dealing with the possible death of schoolmate and What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is a look at the aspects of war through the eyes of the characters (and thus Mr. Schulz).

 

The idea that either of
these cartoons, had they been included on a more “generic” Peanuts DVD, might
be left to “Play All” along with other, lighter specials, is a little jarring. If
watched by very young children, these two shows are best watched with a
grownup, should there be questions or emotional reactions. Perhaps that is why
this DVD package has a muted “collector’s” tone to its design, rather than a sunny,
bright “kidvid” look.

 

What Have We Learned”,
incidentally, takes up the story where Bon
Voyage, Charlie Brown
leaves off, with the group once again in France at
the Chateau du Mal Voisin, making this DVD package a companion
piece to that feature film.

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