Television

The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973, David Lowell Rich)

I should’ve realized there was no hope for The Horror at 37,000 Feet when Paul Winfield shows up the first time and he’s got an English accent but it’s probably supposed to be somewhere from previously colonial Africa. 37,000 is a TV movie from 1973; there’s a cultural context to the only Black person in the movie doing a really silly English accent and being a doctor. Winfield’s there to be a cartoon character more than a caricature. It’s Winfield, of course, so he at least manages to make it seem legit but… he’s not supposed to get to actually do anything. William Shatner, on the other hand, he gets to do something. Nothing really good, but some things. There are a couple moments when it seems like he’s actually engaged with his performance and not just on auto-pilot. No pun intended.

37,000 is a haunted house story set on an airplane. Roy Thinnes plays a rich guy architect—they were a thing in seventy-three, no doubt—who has rented out the commercial airplane to transport a bunch of English ruins back to the United States. The ruins are from wife Jane Merrow’s estate. Thinnes is just trying to be a good guy and bring them back. Because he cares about his wife’s family history even as he tries to make time with fellow passenger France Nuyen while away Merrow.

So Thinnes is a bit of a prick. Eventually he stands up for Merrow when it counts, even though it’s not particularly memorable. Maybe because most of the supporting cast is plotting to destroy Merrow; see, haunted airplane, they’ve got to make a human sacrifice.

How 37,000 isn’t more amusing after it turns Buddy Epsen into a would-be human sacrificer….

What’s weird about 37,000 is at least one of the writers—Ronald Austin and James D. Buchanan—gets the whole “people in intense situations lose their grip” thing. Professional mansplainer Epsen, Spaghetti Western star Will Hutchins, Shatner groupie Lynn Loring, and supermodel France Nuyen all deciding the only rational response to the haunted airplane is to sacrifice someone? It works. Narratively speaking. Sadly the script’s crap, so it doesn’t matter if it’s got sound character development. The acting’s also crap and Rich’s direction is drab; it’s not all the script’s fault. There’s lots of fault to go around.

Though you can’t really get mad at whatever effects person said the onscreen personification of the haunting was going to be shit coming up from the floor. Bubbling shit. It’s really gross. Unfortunately, it’s a tick in the more frequently ticked narratively unsound column of the movie’s details: no one get sick seeing the bubbling shit.

There are no good performances, though there are terrible ones. Loring in particular, followed by Hutchins and Epsen. Thinnes seems like he’s going to be good, but then isn’t (he and Merrow have marital problems caused by Thinnes’s constant gaslighting and implied infidelity; it’s the early seventies so he’s also trying to have her labeled insane because she doesn’t like those behaviors). Merrow’s bad. Tammy Grimes is almost good, but not. It’s not the script, it’s Grimes. She can’t layer her performance.

Shatner’s kind of fun. When he’s not, it’s not his fault. It’s the script. As the captain, Chuck Conners gets some terrible expository lines and doesn’t really react to his plane being immobilized at 37,000 feet by ghosts realistically, but he escapes mostly unscathed. Flight attendants Brenda Benet and Darleen Carr are fine.

Again, Winfield also gets through it with some dignity, which is probably the most successful thing in the film considering how much malarky the film lobs at him.

The Horror at 37,000 Feet is most interesting as an example of when a bad movie isn’t bad in the right ways to be amusing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Lowell Rich; teleplay by Ronald Austin and James D. Buchanan, based on a story by V.X. Appleton; director of photography, Earl Rath; edited by Bud S. Isaacs; music by Morton Stevens; produced by Anthony Wilson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring William Shatner (Paul Kovalik), Jane Merrow (Sheila O’Neill), Roy Thinnes (Alan O’Neill), Lynn Loring (Manya), Tammy Grimes (Mrs. Pinder), Paul Winfield (Dr. Enkalla), Buddy Ebsen (Glenn Farlee), Will Hutchins (Steve Holcomb), Darleen Carr (Margot), Brenda Benet (Sally), Mia Bendixsen (Jodi), France Nuyen (Annalik), Russell Johnson (Jim Hawley), H.M. Wynant (Frank Driscoll), and Chuck Connors (Captain Ernie Slade).


The Hot Zone (2019)

I don’t get to make this statement very often anymore and even less about bestsellers and TV miniseries but I’ve read the book.

The Hot Zone. I’ve read the book by Richard Preston (who is sadly not this guy, Robert Preston). Well, okay, I haven’t read the book. I listened to the book. It’s a good book. Highly recommended if you want to see how “popular non-fiction thrillers” can be done well. It’s so good at that format when I listened to Console Wars and got super-creeped out by the casual misogyny, sometimes downright silly bad writing, lionization of middling White capitalists, and odd “Japanese voice” thing, I kept going because it reminded me of Hot Zone.

I eventually gave up on Console Wars because there’s only so much time in the world and the book has actually got zero to say.

But I didn’t give up on “The Hot Zone,” the event miniseries (aired/run on National Geographic, but produced by Fox TV); even though the miniseries only reminded me of The Hot Zone the book, I finished watching it. Because why not. Even though it never gets to the best parts of said book, even though it’s a terribly plotted television show—Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, and Jeff Vintar are questionable show runners. James V. Hart, who might have written a movie treatment back when Hot Zone was a best-seller and Outbreak hadn’t come out yet, writes a bunch of the episodes too. Or contributes. He gets the “created by” credit, even though he doesn’t write the first episode, which breaks with tradition. At least with tradition as I understand it from watching television too much for too long.

If you’ve read the book and you remember the cave, the cave isn’t in the movie. Instead you get created for the miniseries fictional White guys Liam Cunningham and James D’Arcy hunting the disease in Africa, taking stories away from, you know, Africans. Cunningham is a Scottish Indiana Jones type—the young-age makeup on him, which is mostly just foundation and hair dye, works; it’s a shame Cunningham has zero chemistry with “lead” Julianna Margulies in the present. The present being 1989, flashbacks being 1976. D’Arcy is the square who gets roped into Cunningham’s mad quest to find a lethal virus. The show wants to pretend he’s some kind of zealot but he’s not, neither in script or performance. Maybe it’s because the writers wouldn’t know how to give him that amount of character; the directors (Michael Uppendahl and Nick Murphy) wouldn’t know how to direct for it anyway. They’re really bad.

Canada also doesn’t stand in for Washington D.C. well. The show says it’s “inspired by true events” while the book was true events told in an inspired fashion. It’s a bummer because a good show runner could do wonders with the book. They even have some of the “do wonders” possibilities in the show and do jack shit with them.

The casting doesn’t help either. “Golden Globe-winning star of ‘The Good Wife’” Margulies plays the ostensible lead, who fights against sexism in the U.S. Army’s infectious diseases institutions and basically loses that fight. Margulies’s performance in “Hot Zone” is about the same as a lazy episode of “Good Wife.” She’s fine, never anything more, which is fine for “Hot Zone.” Good for “Hot Zone,” actually.

Topher Grace is bad as her de facto sidekick, the sexist civilian scientist who gets the most sympathetic arc when he thinks he’s got Ebola and has to go to get tested in an AIDS testing speakeasy. The show has this whole juxtaposing of AIDS and Ebola reactions, which I don’t remember in the book but if it was in the book, it wouldn’t have been as poorly handled as in the miniseries. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just the show doesn’t have the producers, writers, or directors to properly explore good ideas. It’s a bummer.

Cunningham and D’Arcy are caricatures, but who cares. They’re not as bad as Grace or as comically ineffectual as Noah Emmerich, who’s Margulies’s husband and the family’s Mr. Mom. One of the many lazy character “development” moments has Emmerich telling Margulies she’s more important to the family than him, even though he’s the only one who does anything with the kids except drive them to school. Once. She takes them once. But only because it can work in the “AIDS panic” sub-sub-subplot and Margulies changing from her Alicia Florick outfit to her Army camo in her car because she’s that kind of go getter.

The show also chokes on the Chuck Shamata as Margulies’s dying dad subplot, which has a lot of potential but not with these writers, not with this show.

Robert Wisdom is fine as Margulies and Emmerich’s commanding officer but it’s more of an extended “Oh, shit, it’s Bunny Colvin!” cameo.

Paul James isn’t good, isn’t bad as Grace’s flunky.

Robert Sean Leonard is similar. He’s there to make things feel less Canadian. Ditto racist Nick Searcy (not his character, just Nick Searcy; he’s not a nice man). Unfortunately, Searcy gives a fantastic performance. At least as far as the script takes him, which isn’t very far because the teleplays aren’t good. Even when they’re not bad.

Twenty-five years after The Hot Zone, given all the advances in scientific knowledge, television narrative, streaming narrative, CG, whatever, you’d think it’d be the perfect time to adapt the book. But “The Hot Zone” ain’t it. I’m not sure Outbreak is much better, minute-by-minute, but it’s a lot shorter and a lot less disappointing.

Read the book.

Young Couples Only (1955, Richard Irving)

Young Couples Only is really good. Especially when you consider how Bill Williams is so weak in the lead and how director Irving never does anything special. He never does anything bad, he just doesn’t do anything special. He certainly doesn’t keep Williams in line. It’s probably a very good thing Williams’s real-life wife Barbara Hale plays his TV wife here. She can carry the scenes for him. And the other scenes usually have Peter Lorre, who does a phenomenal job implying all sorts of depth to his quirky character.

Hale and Williams live in a very nice apartment building. Furnished for–adjusted for inflation–about $600 a month. The only rules are the residents have to be couples, they have to be young, they have to be fit. Williams is an illustrator who isn’t particularly insightful; there’s a brief subplot about Hale not getting his humor (but other men do) but since it turns out Hale is right about everything in the world, maybe Williams doesn’t know what he’s doing.

See, Hale thinks there’s something funny about Lorre, who’s playing the janitor. He gives Hale and the other wives in the building the creeps, even though he’s never really done anything. Other than be Peter Lorre. Williams dismisses Hale–her exasperation at his inability to get past dismissing her because, well, she’s a woman is phenomenal–while she gets more and more suspicious. Especially after their dog disappears.

There are a series of reveals in the second half, each better than the last. Not sure if Lawrence Kimble’s teleplay had the plot twist smarts or Richard Matheson’s short story, but they come off beautifully. Once Williams is in crisis mode, he’s a lot better. Until then, he’s just either having Hale carry his proverbial water for him or Lorre carry it. Young Couples Only sort of plays like a sitcom, with broad, affable performances from Hale and then Williams, only it turns out the show’s just getting warmed up and Hale’s along with the changing tone…and Williams isn’t.

But it still works out beautifully. Thanks to Lorre, thanks to Hale, thanks to the perfectly competent, unambitious technical execution. Young Couples Only is good.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Irving; teleplay by Lawrence Kimble, based on a story by Richard Matheson; “Studio 57” presented by Joel Aldrich; director of photography, Herbert Kirkpatrick; edited by Edward W. Williams; aired by the DuMont Television Network.

Starring Barbara Hale (Ruth), Bill Williams (Rick), Peter Lorre (Mr. Grover), Danni Sue Nolan (Marge), Robert Quarry (Phil), and Paul Bryar (Officer Johnson).



Night Call (1964, Jacques Tourneur)

Night Call’s pre-Rod Serling tag has lead Gladys Cooper having trouble sleeping through a thunderstorm. She then gets two phone calls at 2 a.m., with just static on the line. The next day, after the Serling intro promising Cooper’s in for a momentous event, Cooper tries reporting the phone calls to the phone company but they’ve been having lots of trouble on account of the storm. The operator kind of dismisses her, as does her day-time caretaker, Nora Marlowe. See, Cooper’s kind of a mean old lady–her family doesn’t want anything to do with her–so she gets zero sympathy from Marlowe and, really, Night Call.

The phone calls continue, with the buzz eventually becoming moaning (a man moaning) and then the moaning just becomes the guy saying “Hello” over and over again. Cooper in a full panic, Marlowe is just as unsympathetic (the utter lack of chemistry between Cooper and Marlowe probably hurts Night Call but it’s hard to even imagine they could have any rapport), the phone company is investigating. All Cooper can do is wait. While the calls keep coming.

And somehow Marlowe’s never around to hear them–she’s convinced Cooper’s lying for the attention or something. Turns out, of course, she’s not. Instead there’s some highly contrived explanation along with some pointless comeuppance–watching Marlowe berate Cooper in one scene seems like elder abuse but also with some sexism thrown in–and a pat, predictable ending.

Cooper’s performance is… mediocre. Better than Marlowe, though Marlowe’s got no character to even hint at playing, but still quite mediocre. Tourneur’s direction is similarly middling. The interior stuff is boring, the exterior stuff is not. Except when Tourneur’s got to hammer in the point for the big finale. Rather nice photography from Robert Pittack (especially outside) and solid editing from Richard V. Heermance.

Night Call doesn’t particularly have anything going for it–acting, directing, writing–it’s kind of fine, but so what.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; written by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, Robert Pittack; edited by Richard V. Heermance; produced by Bert Granet; aired by the Central Broadcasting System.

Starring Gladys Cooper (Elva Keene), Nora Marlowe (Margaret Phillips), and Martine Bartlett (Miss Finch).


The Quiet Room (1993, Steven Soderbergh)

The Quiet Room really, really, really, relies on its twist. The ending is really predictable too; like, director Soderbergh and writer Howard A. Rodman do way too well on the foreshadowing. Because Room is a slightly exaggerated noir–part of the “Fallen Angels” TV anthology–nothing really needs to be foreshadowed. There’s a twist Soderbergh and Rodman set up in the first third, the end just delivers on it in an extreme way. Two twists for the price (or time) of one.

By the last third, when it’s just the countdown to the reveal, both lead performances softly crater. Soderbergh makes sure the lovely Emmanuel Lubezki and luscious Armin Ganz production design slow the descent. But the descent is inevitable because it’s just a noir TV anthology episode. With a source short story. And a somewhat salacious twist, at least as far as noir goes; if Quiet Room were going for homage, it might work better. Instead, it tries to be something different.

Joe Mantegna and Bonnie Bedelia are dirty cops. They’re having a love affair, which no one knows about; besides them, the only significant character is Mantegna’s teenage daughter, Vinessa Shaw (in the most important performance and the consistently worst). Mantegna is a single dad, out all hours because he and Bedelia have a shakedown racket going. Bedelia collars prostitutes and then beats information out of them about their johns so Mantegna can go and shake down the johns. Peter Gallagher has what seems like a great cameo as one of them, but then J.E. Freeman is one of the other ones and he’s freaking amazing in a much smaller role. Freeman walks away with the whole thing. Especially given how it finishes up.

Mantegna is mostly all right. He really whiffs when he needs to make it work. Bedelia’s better. Neither of them get good roles though. It’s all about Freeman though, performance-wise.

Soderbergh’s direction is fine. He’s got a handful of nice shots and does well with the actors. Sometimes well with the actors. There’s only so much to do with the script, especially as it starts barreling towards the inevitable conclusion. Soderbergh doesn’t do anything to slow its descent, much less stop it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; teleplay by Howard A. Rodman, based on a short story by Frank E. Smith; “Fallen Angels” created by William Horberg; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Stan Salfas; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Armin Ganz; produced by Horberg, Lindsay Doran and Steve Golin; released by Showtime Networks.

Starring Joe Mantegna (Carl Streeter), Bonnie Bedelia (Sally Creighton), Vinessa Shaw (Jeannie Streeter), Patrick Breen (Doc), J.E. Freeman (Johnny Cabe), and Peter Gallagher (Dr. Yorgrau).


The Predator Holiday Special (2018)

At two minutes, The Predator Holiday Special runs long. The joke runs out. It starts as a rather fun riff on the original Predator movie, with the same music and some familiar action motifs, and the Rankin-Bass stop motion holiday specials. Sure, the stop motion isn’t great and the Predator appears to just be an action figure, but it’s only a couple minutes; it doesn’t have to do too much.

First it’s elf versus Predator, then reindeer versus Predator, finally Santa versus Predator. It’s all fine until it doesn’t end with Santa versus Predator and instead has a pointless, visually inert action finale. Worse, there’s a perfectly good send-off (which could almost save Holiday Special in the last moments), but doesn’t.

The stop motion animation just isn’t there. Given Holiday Special is literally just an extended commercial for the home video release of The Predator, it’s kind of cute. But probably would’ve been a lot cuter at thirty seconds or a minute instead of a drug out two minutes. Better voice acting wouldn’t have hurt it either.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; aired by Comedy Central.


Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown (1985, Bill Melendez)

Right after Snoopy decides to get married–appropriate since the special’s titled Snoopy’s Getting Married, Charlie Brown–Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) worries about how Snoopy will handle the responsibilities of marriage. Now, Charlie Brown finds out Snoopy is getting married because Snoopy has given him a letter to send to his sort of ne’er-do-well brother, Spike. So Snoopy can write a letter in English but Charlie Brown is worried about him handling marriage. Charlie Brown’s got a lot to say for an eight year-old.

Later on, after Spike has traveled from the California desert to stand up for his brother, Lucy (Heather Stoneman) harshly comments on Spike’s ragged appearance. Because she’s a crappy little kid.

Getting Married is never charming enough to make up for the absurdity of the premise and never absurd enough to be charming. The beginning–when Snoopy meets his bride-to-be–has Peppermint Patty (Gini Holtzman) calling up Charlie Brown to ask for Snoopy to watch her house. Her dad has left her alone to go on a business trip.

She’s eight.

Charles M. Schulz really stretches the suspension of disbelief here. Because every time he spreads it thinner, it’s because it’s lazy writing, not a terrible concept. The Peanuts kids throwing Snoopy a wedding could be charming. But they’re all awful when they’re preparing for it. And most of the special is just Spike traveling cross country, which would be fine if Schulz had anything for him to do once he arrives, but he becomes background. He’s kind of amusing when he just stands around because he’s funny looking, but not enough.

There’s a cute scene or two involving Woodstock and the animation is all fine. Melendez’s direction isn’t great, but the animation is fine. Judy Munsen’s music is fine.

The acting is rough. Only Johnson gets a lot of lines–he’s got to read Snoopy and Spike’s letters after all–and you can almost see the actor sitting there reading them flat off the page. Lousy expository dialogue too.

Sure, Getting Married could be a lot worse, but it couldn’t be much more pointless.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann and Julie Maryon; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), Heather Stoneman (Lucy van Pelt), Fergie (Sally Brown), Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown (1984, Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes)

It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown has to be seen to be believed… but also doesn’t need to be seen at all. The special is a Peanuts-riff on… Flashdance. Like, Snoopy saw Flashdance and has become inspired to go out dancing until dawn every night. Meanwhile the Peanuts kids are into dancing now too. Though their dancing is themed–i.e. Peppermint Patty leads an aerobics dance, which makes sense, Charlie Brown leads a hoedown, which doesn’t, Lucy does a “Lucy Says” directional song… set to Hey Ricky. It’s all very, very, very weird.

But also not particularly good. There are a few funny bits–but there’s not a lot of story; the kids have a dance party and Snoopy and Woodstock are messing around with the punch. Only Charlie Brown (Brett Johnson) sees what’s happening. It’s funny. It’s also nowhere near enough to make Flashbeagle anything more than an oddity.

Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes’s direction is fine. On the non-musical number parts, it’s downright good. And while the musical numbers are extravagantly produced and well-animated, they don’t dazzle. The original songs are synth-poppy, which gets annoying fast. I suppose the special’s also of interest because it shows a lot of adults (out clubbing, before they step aside so Snoopy can get down to his theme song… which kids listen to on boomboxes at one point).

It’s weird. Flashbeagle is very weird.

Not weird enough to be worth a look though. The acting is fine. Johnson’s not particularly impressive as Charlie Brown, but Fergie’s good as Sally. Gini Holtzman is an all right Peppermint Patty, even if her song is astoundingly obnoxious.

Somehow Fleshbeagle itself isn’t obnoxious. Just… strange.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez and Sam Jaimes; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley, Chuck McCann, and Richard C. Allen; music by Desirée Goyette and Ed Bogas; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Brett Johnson (Charlie Brown), Fergie (Sally Brown), Gini Holtzman (Peppermint Patty), and Keri Houlihan (Marcie).


What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983, Bill Melendez)

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is exceedingly intense. It doesn’t start intense, though it does start a little different. There’s this gradual shot–with Judy Munsen’s lovely score accompanying–moving through all the toys in Charlie Brown’s house before it gets to his bookshelf. The books with visible spines are heady classic novels; but Charlie Brown (Brad Kesten) is getting down his picture album. He’s got to put in some snapshots from his trip to France–Learned is direct sequel, time-wise not tone-wise, to the theatrical Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown–and Sally comes over to ask what he’s doing. So he tells her about the events of his trip after the movie.

His recounting starts as comedy. It’s Charlie Brown, Linus (Jeremy Schoenberg), Peppermint Patty (Victoria Vargas), Marcie (Michael Dockery), and Snoopy and Woodstock. Snoopy is driving because when it’s a bunch of eight year-olds without adult supervision, it’s best to let the beagle drive. Even if he does get into multiple accidents throughout the special. After Snoopy wrecks the car and gets into a fight with a flock of ducks, the kids have to rent another one. Good thing Marcie speaks French (she’s the only one who does).

Up to this point, Learned is well-produced–great animation, excellent direction from Melendez, that Munsen music, and a strong script from Charles M. Schulz–but nothing particularly special. Then the kids camp out for the night and Linus realizes they’re on the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach. He goes down to the beach and, through rotoscoping, “sees” the D-Day invasion. The rotoscoping colorizes the black and white footage with bold, bright colors, creating a wonderful tonal contrast between the Peanuts kids’ adventure and the history they’re encountering.

Once the other kids wake up, Linus tells them where they are and all about D-Day. They explore the area, culminating in a walk through the American cemetery, with an Eisenhower speech accompanying them. Learned got intense starting with Linus’s beach visions. The cemetery tour, which is visually magnificent, just ratchets it up even further.

There’s some more humor–really good physical gags–to calm things down. Then they get to Ypres, a World War I site, and Linus tells the other kids about it. The WWI sequence is much shorter–no rotoscoped footage–and initially seems like it won’t be as affecting as the D-Day sequences. Then Linus starts reciting John McCrae’s poem, *In Flanders Field*, with accompanying visuals, and it devastates. Munsen’s music plays a big part, effectiveness-wise.

Schulz wraps it up–before a gently comedic bookend–with some succinct profundity. It’s all very intense.

Great script, animation, direction, and music. Schoenberg is excellent with the lengthy expository monologues. The rest of the cast is good, they just don’t have the heavy lifting Schoenberg gets.

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? is spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Judy Munsen; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Jeremy Schoenberg (Linus van Pelt), Brad Kesten (Charlie Brown), Victoria Vargas (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), and Stacy Heather Tolkin (Sally Brown).


It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1983, Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez)

Despite being an anthology of eight different stories, It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown does not have many adventures. Well, not in the adventurous sense. They’re still good, they’re just not… adventures. The special runs forty-seven minutes, with the eight stories having differing lengths.

The first three stories are the most substantial. There are two Charlie Brown (Michael Catalano) stories and then a Peppermint Patty (Brent Hauer) and Marcie (Michael Dockery) one.

The stories all have titles, which nicely delineates them. The first is “Sack,” in which Charlie Brown becomes so obsessed with baseball he develops a rash on his head. The rash looks like baseball stitches. His solution is to wear a paper shopping bag over his head; his doctor’s solution is for him to get away from it all and go to camp. There he becomes incredibly popular… because he’s got a bag over his head.

It’s a good start to Adventure, with a nice performance from Catalano, and some great moments. Charles M. Schulz adapted all of the stories from the Peanuts comic strip, so the proverbial tires are in good shape throughout, regardless of story length. There’s also a wonderfully absurdist punchline to the whole thing.

The next story is “Caddies,” which has Peppermint Patty and Marcie working as caddies for a couple bickering golfers. Hauer and Dockery are both good, there are some strong jokes, and some rather nice animation. Again, not really an adventure, but a good bit. It too has a strong punchline, while the rest of the stories have far more unassuming ones.

Like “Kite,” the last of the three longer stories. Charlie Brown finally cracks and attacks the Kite Eating Tree, resulting in a threatening letter from the EPA. Like any sensible eight year-old, upon receipt of the letter, he runs away. He doesn’t get too far before he finds himself coaching a bunch of younger kids’ baseball team. It’s a really sweet story, as Charlie Brown bonds with the kids, particularly little Milo (Jason Mendelson) who’s so young he can’t hold a bat.

Then there are two much shorter stories, one with Schroeder (Brad Schacter) and Lucy (Angela Lee Sloan) fighting as he tries to play his piano, the other with Sally (Cindi Reilly) having school problems. Both are visually simple, but the one with Schroeder and Lucy is so spared down the focus is all on the characters’ interaction. It’s rather effective thanks to Schacter and Lee Sloan’s performances.

The next two stories–”Butterfly” and “Blanket” are longer, but not as long as the opening three. And “Butterfly” is almost stellar, it just ends too soon. A butterfly lands on Peppermint Patty’s nose. After she falls asleep, Marcie takes the butterfly off and coaxes it to fly away. Only then Marcie tells Peppermint Patty the butterfly turned into an angel before flying away, convincing Patty she’s a practical prophet. She goes from telling the various Peanuts kids about the miracle before deciding to take her message to houses of worship. It’s good and funny and all, but for a moment it seems like Schulz is getting downright ambitious with Peppermint Patty’s (still very Peppermint Patty-like) evangelicalism.

“Blanket” has Lucy getting fed up with Linus’s blanket–to be fair, the blanket does attack her multiple times–and trying to dispose of it in various ways. Obviously these attempts cause Linus (Rocky Reilly) considerable consternation–and panic–as he tries to save the blanket. It’s a good story, with a lot of excellent animation (Adventure goes all out animation-wise); Reilly’s decent and Lee Sloan is good, even if she’s exceeding unlikable. Lucy gets cruel.

Then the Adventure ends with a short “Woodstock” and Snoopy bit. It’s adorable and, like most of the special, reserved and subtle.

While It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown lacks in frenzied imagination, the good performances, good direction, good animation, and strong writing more than compensate. It’s never particularly exciting, it’s always assured and well-executed. The longer, ten or twelve minute stories are a rather good length for the segments. The anthology format works out well. It’s too bad the directors don’t get credit for their individual segments; it’d be interesting to know who did what.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Jaimes, Phil Roman, and Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Ed Bogas and Desirée Goyette; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Michael Catalano (Charlie Brown), Angela Lee Sloan (Lucy van Pelt), Rocky Reilly (Linus van Pelt), Brent Hauer (Peppermint Patty), Michael Dockery (Marcie), Cindi Reilly (Sally Brown), Brad Schacter (Schroeder), Jenny Lewis (Ruby), Johnny Graves (Austin), and Jason Mendelson (Milo).


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