Peanuts Specials

DVD Review: It’s the Pied Piper Charlie Brown – One Word: Auuuuuugggghhhh!

Have you ever had a moment where something that was near and dear to you as a child was blown out of the water? All of the wonderful memories just shattered in a fit of nostalgia where you find out that something you hold near and dear doesn’t quite measure up? I adored the Peanuts specials as a child and didn’t believe there was such a thing as a bad one, until I sat down with my children to watch It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown.

This was billed as the last special that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was involved with. I would think that his health was failing and he had very little involvement in this special based on the content contained herein. It seems as if Schulz’s steady hand and consistent methods were what kept the Peanuts specials consistent over the years with consistent characters we all could identify with. Somehow in all of the “gang” portrayed, we all saw a bit of ourselves or maybe more than just a “bit”.

As It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown starts, Sally is looking for her big brother Charlie Brown to read something to her. He says it’s between the Pied Piper or War and Peace. She chooses The Pied Piper. Sally listens to him read and imagines a town just like theirs in the story. These characters look just a little bit different from the usual Peanuts gang. As the story goes on, they are replaced and become mostly the characters we are used to like Charlie Brown, Schroeder, and more.

The mice are all over the town, singing, dancing, playing jump rope, and just generally interfering in everyday life. The gang goes to visit the mayor, who promises Charlie Brown anything he wants if he can produce the pied piper.

Snoopy comes along, plays the accordion, and dances. The mice all follow him out of town. The mayor tries to weasel out of his agreement to give Snoopy a year’s supply of dog food when he and Charlie Brown try to collect. He invites them to do their worst if he doesn’t come through. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what that was, but Snoopy managed to surprise me!

The story sounds innocuous enough, but it doesn’t work on so many levels. Right in the beginning, there were things that stood out that I didn’t like. What does it say that Sally claims the story is too hard to read herself? Yet she can do a complicated math equation to come to the conclusion that The Pied Piper weighs a great deal less than War and Peace.

This story also breaks the one taboo of showing what the grown-ups look like in the world of the Peanuts gang. Not only that, they talk! The mayor of the town looks like he’s out of Frosty the Snowman.

The same animators, Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson are at the helm, so it doesn’t seem that this special was produced by an entirely different crew. One clue was when Charlie Brown calls soccer “football” so it seems like it wasn’t designed for an American audience. Still, I can’t imagine the children in Great Britain don’t love the classic Peanuts specials the same way children here do.

Despite the crew being the same animators, I didn’t think the animation looked as good as the classic specials. It had more of the feeling of the animated shows mass-produced for Saturday mornings at one time and now all over numerous channels on cable television. The only bright spot I found in It’s the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown is the music, which is pretty good.

The only other plus for this special was the special feature which consisted of a Retrospective Interview with Charles Schulz. I would recommend renting it just for this for people who are real fans of the specials, rather than the actual feature. It’s really interesting to hear him talk about where the characters came from and as they evolved throughout the years.

My kids liked it fine for one viewing, but it didn’t endear them to it the way many others have. They have never asked to see it again, and it doesn’t fit in as something they would look forward to seeing. I was horrified as everything that I knew and loved about Peanuts through the years was smashed to bits.

7 replies »

  1. It seems to me that (based on what you wrote, since I’ve never seen this special) that the team behind “It’s The Pied Piper, Charlie Brown” had run out of “creative mojo.” Especially considering that Charles M. Schulz was not in good health and thus not the “Sparky” of the 1950s and 1960s.

    I grew up reading “Peanuts” comics as a child. I first read them in Spanish in Bogota’s El Tiempo newspaper (in Colombia, “Peanuts” was and is known as “Carlitos”). I also seem to remember going to see a reissue of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” either in 1972 or 1973 once we moved back to Miami. I also used to own paperback collections of black and white strips between grades 3 and 6.

    I didn’t keep watching the TV specials after I turned 13 or so; once I became a teenager I was far more into girls and Star Wars, so…..

    • I had all of those books too. Sadly, my parents tossed them when they moved out of the house I grew up in. I read them over and over again. This seemed to mark a changing of the guard. Sadly, they failed to capture the spirit of what the comic was.

      • Come to think of it, I had the tie-in book to “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” If I recall correctly, it was a hardcover book in full color. (I don’t remember, though, if it was all art-and-lettering by Charles M. Schulz in strip form, or whether it was text accompanied with cels from the animated film.)

        I do remember the paperbacks were collections of Peanuts strips from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s.