Monday, October 19, 2009

Underrated Peanuts Specials

Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown is not in the Peanuts '70s collection being released tomorrow (though it will be in a volume 2 if they release one, which is why I haven't bought the stand-alone DVD of it). But since I'm usually not that enthusiastic about the post-Peter Robbins Peanuts specials, I wanted to put in a word for this one as my favorite of the post-'60s specials. This is because it always seemed like the hardest-edged, "purest" of all the Peanuts cartoons.

Because it's associated with a holiday that really has no redeeming aspects in the Schulz universe -- it's portrayed purely as a way of humiliating Charlie Brown and turning love into a commodity -- and because love is never requited in the Peanuts world, this is a special that has no real uplift to it, except Charlie Brown's moment of self-delusion at the end. Most of the key moments are moments of pain, like Linus throwing away the chocolates he had intended to give Miss Othmar, full of hatred for every commercial or pop-cultural symbol of love. The climax is based on a 1963 strip where Charlie Brown accepts a Valentine given to him out of pity and guilt feelings, happily debasing himself for the sake of a stupid card. And that's the "happy" bit. Even the Guaraldi score is kind of abrasive.

The only adaptation that is quite this dark is A Boy Named Charlie Brown, but the misery in that one is so concentrated that even hard-core Schulzians can find it hard to take. This one is more in line with the strip. It's dark, but not depressing, because the underlying message is that Charlie Brown's problems are within his own power to fix: if he stopped caring so much about pointless symbols, he might be happier, but he doesn't want to stop caring about them.

Also, this scene, which is taken word for word and action for action from a Sunday strip that ran just a year or so before the special was done, is one of my favorite adaptations of a Peanuts strip into animation. It seems like the animators, and the voice actress (Melanie Kohn) perfectly captured the destructive insanity of Lucy. And while Phil Roman's "let's do everything in front of a blank background that changes color" thing eventually got out of hand, it works here.


Thad said...

I prefer this version.

Chris L. said...

You're absolutely right. I always liked it, and I'd assumed that the rest of the Peanuts community did as well, so I was shocked back when I was a regular at the Peanuts newsgroup when the guy who maintains this website said he hated it because it was too "mean-spirited" or something like that. Someone else did once did a post on there about how there were 3 basic camps of Peanuts fandom: the strip fans, the animation fans, and the merchandising fans. I can see why the animation and merch fans wouldn't like Be My Valentine, but it's the special for the strip fans.

J Lee said...

Coming out of the Chuck Jones unit, and with all the ex-UPAers initially involved with the Peanuts specials, the use of changing colors by Roman to express changes in mood isn't that surprising. My problem here is there's no natural progression from pleasing colors to angrier ones as Lucy's fury increases -- instead it's more the end of the old titles for "The Lucy Show", where the random colors change at regular intervals, and without any care about what each color selected is expressing.