CBS

You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

Most of You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown is a motocross race. There are a bunch of kids in the race–organized by Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman)–but the only two racers who matter are Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) and Snoopy, “disguised” as The Masked Marvel. The race is beautifully plotted. Charles M. Schulz’s script is good throughout, but the race stands out. It’s not overly dramatic, it’s just good. Whether it’s Charlie Brown chugging along on his broken down bike or Snoopy having time for a picnic, the animation is always good, the interlude pacing is always good, it just works.

With the exception of the ending, which is soft, Schulz’s script doesn’t have a weak moment. Roman’s direction is always good, the animation is always good, the voice acting is always good. If not better. Jimmy Ahrens’s Marcie is phenomenal here; Marcie gets the job of race announcer and, much to everyone’s surprise, immediately becomes a real sports journalist.

The short opens with Sally (Gail Davis) and Linus (Liam Martin) getting a scene. Davis’s real good, Martin’s fine, but it’s a great scene. The title is a little misleading because at no point is Charlie Brown ever (neccesarily) a good sport. It just seems like it’s going to involve sports and Sally and Linus going to play tennis is, you know, sports.

But they can’t play because Snoopy’s got a match going against a mystery opponent. That match’s punchline is when Sports all of a sudden gets really good. The match itself is long, but needs to be for the punchline.

Then the actual story starts, with Peppermint Patty (Stuart Brotman) arriving and telling all the other kids about motocross. Charlie Brown and Linus get a crappy bike so they can participate. Once the race starts, Sports stops being predictable until it’s over. Schulz has puts Chekov’s gun on the wall in the first act, but it’s not neccesarily for firing. Sports has a strong script. Right up until the mediocre close.

Roman’s direction is really good, the animation is excellent, the Vince Guaraldi seventies cool(ish) jazz score is great, Sports is a good outing for Charlie Brown and company.

Though it does seem to ignore how Charlie Brown (maybe subconsciously) obviously knows the Masked Marvel’s identity.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stuart Brotman (Peppermint Patty), Gail Davis (Sally Brown), Liam Martin (Linus van Pelt), and Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt).


Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975, Phil Roman)

There’s not a lot of story in Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown. It’s almost Valentine’s Day and Charlie Brown (Duncan Watson) is anxious to receive some valentines. Meanwhile, Linus (Stephen Shea) has a crush on his teacher, much to the chagrin of Sally (Lynn Mortensen).

Those plots are it. Everything else either supports Charlie Brown and Linus’s story or is just padding. Sally gets some scenes, but it’s Linus’s plot line. And they’re padded.

Some of the padding is charming. Valentine has some iffy graphic blandishment and that iffiness works against the charm. Some of the padding is just padding too. There’s this lengthy sequence where Snoopy is putting on a play and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) gets suckered into seeing it. Charlie Brown narrates and, even though it doesn’t really fit and isn’t particularly successful, there’s some creativity to the vingette. The scenes for the main stories? They’re awkward. Especially the third act, which takes place on Valentine’s Day. The kids in school, getting their valentines.

Director Roman–and his graphic blandishers–don’t take a lot of time executing the scene. It’s a long scene, there’s plenty of time to execute it better, they just don’t. Sometimes it gets worse. Plus, there are these weird “Peanuts” continuity errors–like Peppermint Patty and Marcie being in the classroom (silent) when they’re supposed to go to a different school. It makes you wonder how closely Roman and the animators followed the Charles M. Schulz script.

Of course, while Schulz gets the sole writing credit, they are seven credited story writers. And Valentine feels like there are eight sets of hands in it. It’s all over the place.

Linus’s resolution is also poorly executed. It’s extremely padded. Literally extremely padded. Editors Roger Donley and Chuck McCann hold this shot where nothing is happening on screen and there’s no sound suggesting anything happening for most of it and it just hangs. Valentine stalls. Literally this time instead of figuratively.

There’s some fun Snoopy stuff–outside the play–and some okay, if not enough, material for Lucy–but it all hinges on Linus and Charlie Brown’s stories. And then it sabotages them through plodding plotting.

Valentine is too rote. Especially Vince Guaraldi’s score.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; teleplay by Charles M. Schulz, based on a story by Joseph A. Bailey, Jerry Juhl, Emily Perl Kingsley, Norman Stiles, Paul D. Zimmerman, David Korr, and Ray Sipherd and characters created by Schulz; edited by Roger Donley and Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Duncan Watson (Charlie Brown), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Lynn Mortensen (Sally Brown), Melanie Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Greg Felton (Schroeder), and Linda Ercoli (Violet).


It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! (1974, Phil Roman)

Easter Beagle has a really strong script from Charles M. Schulz. Everything is balanced just right. It’s not balanced equally. The proportions are just right. Besides the lovely musical sequences–where Beagle goes for being lovely and graceful (lots of dancing Snoopy, set Vince Guaraldi, some Bach, and some Beethoven)–most of the special is spent with Peppermint Patty (Linda Ercoli) and Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens). Patty is trying to teach Marcie how to make Easter eggs. Things go wrong in very amusing ways as Marcie apparently has no understanding of how eggs work.

That subplot keeps up the whole special–but is actually completely independent of the “twist”–and just gets funnier. By the final few screw-ups, Peppermint Patty’s frustrations are possibly less than the viewer’s. It’s perfectly plotted by Schulz and director Roman. Really funny, really good plotting.

Other subplots include Sally (Lynn Mortensen) needing new shoes, Linus (Stephen Shea) trying to convince Sally and the other kids the Easter Beagle will give them all Easter eggs so why make them, and Woodstock needing a new bird house. Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee) and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) are around, but mostly just to be exasperated by their younger siblings.

There’s a great department store sequence–where everything is all Christmas (Easter Beagle has a couple moments of big commercialism commentary from Schulz; the department store works a lot better than the stuff in dialogue)–and only Snoopy is able to find the Easter section, on his way to picking out a bird house for Woodstock. Because even though Snoopy is a bit of a jerk to Woodstock–there’s a lot of almost mean slapstick violence–he does want to get him a new bird house.

Great music, some fantastic sequences (like, lots of them–Easter Beagle is mostly fantastic sequences), and strong performances from the cast. Kohn is maybe the weakest, but she comes around–though Barbee does have the worst part in the special–and Ercoli and Ahrens do some great work. Oh, and Mortensen and Shea. The Easter Beagle stuff is excellent.

And it’s got a great finish.

It’s the Easter Beagle, which has almost zilch to do with Easter, is a constant, consistent success.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann and Roger Donley; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Linda Ercoli (Peppermint Patty), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), Lynn Mortensen (Sally), Melanie Kohn (Lucy), and Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown).


It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974, Phil Roman)

It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown opens with this adorable five minute Woodstock sequence. He builds a new nest, then goes and takes a swim in a bird bath. A storm comes in–whatever its faults, Mystery does have some rather ambitious animation for a “Charlie Brown” special–the tranquil clouds changing into storm clouds looks awesome. Woodstock then has to survive on the water until Snoopy can save him. Once Snoopy comes in, things start to get less adorable. Mystery starts going for gags, because whenever Snoopy tries to help Woodstock, something goes wrong because of Snoopy’s callousness. For a while it seems like a subplot is going to be Woodstock snapping.

But it’s not. Because Mystery doesn’t have any subplots.

Once the storm is over and Woodstock is dry, Snoopy walks him home. Only the new nest is gone, so Snoopy dons a Sherlock Holmes outfit and they get investigating.

Wait, did I forget to mention Sally (Lynn Mortensen) has a science project due and the subject is nature. She needs something from nature.

Hint, hint.

So Snoopy and Woodstock investigate the Peanuts kids, starting with Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee) under a hot lamp. Then Lucy and Linus, then Marcie, then Pigpen, then Peppermint Patty. None of the scenes stand out except the Peppermint Patty one, where Patty decides Snoopy is playing cops and robbers and plays as the robber and attacks him. It might be a good scene if Donna Le Tourneau’s voice work on Patty were better. There’s got to be something special in the voice of a character who thinks a bipedal dog in a costume is a funny-looking kid and Le Tourneau doesn’t have it here.

After all the investigating, they go to the school and find the bird nest. Even though they’re just following the footprints from the tree, which Mystery previously implied led to Charlie Brown’s house and maybe the plot would move along a little faster. The trip to the other kids’ houses is narratively pointless. Other than to keep doing this sight gag where Snoopy’s bubble pipe makes a big bubble. The big bubble always pops on Woodstock, soaking him once again. Given Woodstock almost drown to death in the opening scene, it’s a little mean. Mystery is a little mean to Woodstock, who’s basically the only not annoying character in it.

Because Sally gets really, really, really annoying. Mortensen plays her a little sociopathic, which is funny, but she’s fighting with Woodstock, who’s sympathetic.

The last third is a series of unfunny jokes. Mystery goes out on a particularly bad one.

It took six guys to come up with the story for Mystery–Charles M. Schulz isn’t credited with them, though he wrote the teleplay. They didn’t come up with much. For a while it seemed like it’d be focused more on Snoopy and Woodstock, so dialogue-free comedy. But no.

It’s not terrible, it’s just not successful. It doesn’t really try to succeed either. It’s also not assured enough to be rote.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; teleplay by Charles M. Schulz, based on a story by Joseph A. Bailey, Jerry Juhl, Jeff Moss, Norman Stiles, Jon Stone, and Ray Sipherd and characters created by Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown), Lynn Mortensen (Sally), Melanie Kohn (Lucy), Stephen Shea (Linus), Donna Le Tourneau (Peppermint Patty), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), and Tom Muller (Pig Pen).


The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

The Return of the Incredible Hulk is the second pilot movie for the subsequent “Incredible Hulk” TV series. It aired three weeks after the first pilot, which featured the origin of the Hulk–scientist Bruce Bixby turns himself into green-skinned musclebound grotesque Lou Ferrigno thanks to gamma rays–and his pursuer, annoying, uninformed tabloid reporter Jack Colvin. Luckily Colvin doesn’t come into Return until over a half hour in so there’s limited Colvin, which is just fine. Return has enough acting… issues without Colvin mucking up too many scenes.

It’s not all Colvin’s fault; the details of his scenes are idiotic television shorthand. But it’s not like he makes the scenes work, which an actor could with some enthusiasm. The cast of Return of the Incredible Hulk is usually at least enthusiastic–all the guest stars act like they’re auditioning for a regular CBS show, which they are–but not Colvin. He’s just an unenthusiastic jackass, which isn’t a good kind of jackass.

And Colvin isn’t the one who drags Return down. The Return of the Incredible Hulk is a perfectly adequate, lower mediocre, late seventies television pilot. The one impressive shot in it doesn’t even involve the Hulk and it’s only technically impressive. Director Levi does show some interest occasionally, but he also shoots some really mediocre scenes. He’s got no interest in the soap opera aspects of the story, which is sort of a Gothic about a troubled young woman (Laurie Prange), who lost her father and her ability to walk, now getting sicker and sicker, in the care of stepmother Dorothy Tristan and special doctor William Daniels. Although an heiress, her true love is Gerald McRaney. He disappears after the first third, which is too bad. He’s rather enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Prange ends up getting the spotlight, befriending both Bixby and Ferrigno–separately. She calms Ferrigno’s beast and Bixby is trying to save her from those conspiring against her. Though there’s not much mystery in who’s conspiring against her. Kenneth Johnson’s teleplay is nothing if not efficient. The moment after Bixby reveals he knows Daniels’s doing something slimy, Daniels’s conspirator confronts Daniels about it. So all of a sudden Return’s got specific villains who have specific henchmen for Ferrigno to fight.

All the action takes place on Prange’s orange orchard in Northern California. At the opening, before it’s been made clear what a low bar Return is going for, it almost seems like there’s going to be a Bill Bixby as Tom Joad thing. There isn’t.

There is a Lou Ferrigno is Boris Karloff with the old man, which would be a lot more amusing if the old man didn’t stick around the rest of the movie. John McLiam plays the old man, a loner who has cut himself off from the world because of tragedy. He’s a veteran. He’s also a drunken Northern California hillbilly living in a surprisingly well-lighted shack. Oh, and his introduction is taunting the chicken he’s cooking about how he’s going to eat it.

And McLiam plays it all straight, which is just the wrong way to play it.

Everyone in Return, with the exception of Colvin and McLiam, tries. Daniels has some good nerdy creep moments. Tristan has some good moments. Some bad ones too, but at least there’s some energy to her performance. Though muted… as it appears in Charles W. Short’s thoroughly competent and boring lighting.

Prange tries. And she is frequently bad. But when the script’s at its best and the melodrama is toned down, Prange has a really good moment or two. There’s a sweetness between she and Ferrigno and it’s entirely from the actors. Johnson makes the time in the movie for it, but–as producer–he doesn’t make Levi enable it. Instead they rely on Joseph Harnell to do a terrible theme for Prange, separate from the “Incredible Hulk” theme, which gets a disco-ish remix early on in Return. And they use that theme for Prange ad nauseam. It ruins scenes, it ruins momentum.

Because Return finally gets some momentum in the second half, when Bixby, Prange, and McLiam are on the run. Through the Northern California orange country swamp, chased by men with dogs and a guy in a helicopter. And there are snakes.

And bears. And Ferrigno fights a bear. It’s not a bad fight. Like, for a TV pilot movie? With the “Hulk”’s demographic target audience? It’s a decent bear fight. Much cooler than the rest of the Ferrigno action. There’s too much slow motion, not enough choreography. When there’s choreography–even a little bit–it works better. There’s also the breaking stuff factor. Ferrigno breaks things (it’s the reason Bixby can’t stay in one place too long, Ferrigno might break something–not kill someone, break something). They’re big things, sure, but the set pieces are often tedious in Return. And sometimes Levi will all of a sudden decent to get serious during a fight scene and totally change the tempo.

But the bear fight is cool.

The snake not so much.

There’s also a quicksand sequence, because it’s a TV pilot movie from the late seventies. The quicksand is a disappointment.

I forgot McRaney (just the like the movie; though maybe he was busy shooting other things). He’s not good, but he’s likable. You can tell he’s got the TV star thing down. And when he’s in the movie, there’s at least a chance for it to go someplace surprising, story-wise.

It’s when he disappears Return becomes a race to the half hour chase scene.

And the half hour chase scene makes up for the rest. Enough for a late seventies TV pilot movie. The whole thing is an audition tape for Bill Bixby and the various things he’ll be able to do on the subsequent series. There’s just enough with Ferrigno to show off the action possibilities. Prange has just the right amount of tragedies to show off the sentimental possibilities. Bixby’s likability, especially opposite Prange, makes up for a lot throughout. Johnson does a fine job advertising a series.

While still adequately plotting out the ninety minutes. Return is well-produced, it’s just unimaginatively executed and rather underacted.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alan J. Levi; teleplay by Kenneth Johnson Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Glenn Lawrence and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; produced by Johnson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Laurie Prange (Julie Griffith), John McLiam (Michael), William Daniels (Dr. John Bonifant), Dorothy Tristan (Margaret Griffith), Gerald McRaney (Denny Kayle), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Victor Mohica (Rafe), Robert Phillips (Phil), Mills Watson (Sheriff), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973, Bill Melendez)

There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown takes about seven minutes to get into the main story–Charlie Brown and the other kids go on a field trip to the art museum–and about seventeen minutes to get to the title relevancy. At first it seems like there’s no time for love because the kids are all so busy with school. No Time opens with a series of short vignettes chronicling the various kids at school. Charlie Brown gets some time, Peppermint Patty gets time, Linus, Sally, Franklin, Snoopy, some Lucy. The vignettes are funny–writer Schulz knows how to do a comedic vignette–and No Time could probably maintain for the whole half hour on nothing else.

The vignettes do tie in a bit–Charlie Brown (Chad Webber) needs to get an A on his field trip report in order to pass his class. Before the field trip No Time concentrates mostly on Peppermint Patty (Christopher DeFaria) and Marcie (James Ahrens), even though they’re at a different school. Luckily both schools are going on the same day. And no one busts Snoopy for being a dog at the field trip.

Sally (Hilary Momberger) gets more to do in the setup–because she’s so worried about school–but kind of disappears once the field trip gets going. She’s still around, but she doesn’t have anything else to do. She gets some of the bigger moments in the vignettes.

Things go terribly wrong on the field trip–Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty end up in the supermarket, thinking it’s a pop art display. Lots of funny stuff on the field trip, plus a “Joe Cool” sequence where Snoopy works as a supermarket checker.

The finale deals with the Love in the title as well as the fallout from going to the wrong location. Linus and Lucy do go to the museum and have some nice scenes. Lots of good visuals in No Time, in the museum and supermarket. The school stuff is sublimely simple, with the field trip locations properly busy.

Good script from Schulz, good direction from Melendez. Most of the acting is good. Except Ahrens, which is too bad because Marcie’s got a rather big part and her voice is too flat and without personality. DeFaria does rather well, ditto Webber. Charlie Brown gets a decent arc in No Time, it just takes until the last third to become clear.

No Time‘s an entirely solid half hour. It gets a little long towards the end, but never gets any less entertaining as it does.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Rudy Zamora Jr.; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Chad Webber (Charlie Brown), Christopher DeFaria (Peppermint Patty), Hilary Momberger-Powers (Sally Brown), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), Robin Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), and Todd Barbee (Franklin).


You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972, Bill Melendez)

A lot goes on in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, with the actual class president election stuff coming in at the end of the first act. Instead, Elected starts with Sally (Hilary Momberger-Powers) having school troubles. There’s a long conversation about all the possible school problems with Charlie Brown (Chad Webber), only for it to be Sally can’t get into her locker. Then there’s a lengthy breakfast sequence where Snoopy gets the kids ready for school.

The locker problem returns–with Charlie Brown trying to help Sally–only for it to be the locker height. She can’t reach. Though none of the kids could reach, even though all the doors are the right height. It’s a weird gag. The immediate subsequent scene visually invalidates it.

But then it turns out Sally just wants to get Charlie Brown to be her show and tell item, which gives him a panic attack. At the end of the panic attack, he sees a sign about class president elections. So here’s the class president story line? No.

Because there’s still a fun little Snoopy in school sequence with the “Joe Cool” song in the background. And a lot of physical violence.

Lucy (Robin Kohn) does some voter interest research and discovers Charlie Brown doesn’t have a chance at winning. But Linus (Stephen Shea) does.

So Charlie Brown isn’t elected in You’re Not Elected because he’s not even running.

The Linus campaign stuff is fantastic. Kohn and Shea are both really good, even if Lucy’s best sequence–getting more and more frustrated during an “ask the candidate” call-in–doesn’t have much dialogue. Shea’s got the big campaign speech, which is hilarious as Linus gets more and more authoritarian as the school body cheers.

Unfortunately, Linus has some peculiar tendencies and they eventually complicate the campaign. Rather amusingly.

Elected takes a little while to get going–the diversion with Sally is okay (Momberger-Powers is fine), but dramatically inert–once Lucy starts running campaigns though, the cartoon gets a nice, steady pace. Good direction from Melendez, some lovely visuals (particularly the backgrounds), and a fine score from Vince Guaraldi. Guaraldi also does the “Joe Cool” song.

Between the title and the clunky (if competent) first act, Elected is a bit of a surprise, both in narrative and quality.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Rudy Zamora Jr.; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Melendez and Lee Mendelson; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Chad Webber (Charlie Brown), Robin Kohn (Lucy van Pelt), Stephen Shea (Linus van Pelt), Hilary Momberger-Powers (Sally Brown), and Todd Barbee (Russell).


He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown (1968, Bill Melendez)

He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown opens with Snoopy terrorizing the kids. He’s indiscriminately vicious, leading to the kids complaining to Charlie Brown about it. Charlie Brown’s solution is to send Snoopy off to the puppy farm for reeducation.

Snoopy is Dog’s draw. His worst moments are the initial terrorizing and even those are perfectly good. They’re beautifully animated. The transitions from cute Snoopy to terrorizing Snoopy are phenomenal. Melendez’s direction is strong throughout, particularly during the travel montages, but the opening terrorizing is more than solid stuff. Charles M. Schulz’s script works fast, getting Snoopy in trouble–after a quick, well-directed Red Baron (ish) sequence–and getting him off for retraining.

Unfortunately, Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) decides to give Snoopy a layover on his trip. Snoopy’s going to spend the night at Peppermint Patty’s. Peppermint Patty (Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter) who just thinks Snoopy is a funny-looking kid.

Once Snoopy gets to Peppermint Patty’s and she treats him so well, he decides he’s not going to leave and instead goes on furlough. I mean, she’s got an in-ground swimming pool and waits on him hand and foot. While Snoopy’s various antics–and his eventual emotional breakdown–are Dog’s essentials, DeFaria Ritter is the one who makes it all work. Snoopy (despite director Melendez contributing growls and such) is nonverbal. DeFaria Ritter gets a lot of dialogue–all of the verbal jokes and gags–for most of the cartoon.

Even after Charlie Brown comes back in–he finds out Snoopy is skipping retraining and heads over to Peppermint Patty’s leash in hand, causing a further rift between he and Snoopy–DeFaria Ritter still gets the best material. When Snoopy comes back to her house after his dust-up with Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty has had enough with the waiting on him and instead puts him to work cleaning the house, which ends up being as hilarious as when she’s waiting on him.

Charlie Brown once again comes back, this time because he and the kids miss Snoopy, only for the reunion to again go south, leaving Snoopy more trapped than ever.

Schulz’s plotting is outstanding, Melendez’s direction is spry, the animation is exquisite–Vince Guaraldi’s score is a little wanting but still fine. He’s Your Dog is a fine cartoon, a great showcase for DeFaria Ritter, as well as Snoopy as a lead character. Schulz gives Snoopy multi-layered adventures. There are his daydreams, his main plot, then the incidentals. There’s always something different, even when they repeat the same animation (just once, but noticeably). Schulz and Melendez do a great job keeping Snoopy’s adventure fresh.

And when Dog needs to be sentimental or emotional, Melendez and Schulz always make it happen without getting too saccharine.

The cartoon’s pragmatically exquisite.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis; music by Vince Guaraldi; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Sally Dryer (Lucy), Christopher Shea (Linus), and Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter (Peppermint Patty).


Charlie Brown’s All Stars! (1966, Bill Melendez)

Despite being all about baseball–specifically baseball games–“Charlie Brown’s All Stars!” barely has any logic to how its baseball works. It’s summertime and Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) loses the kids’ first game of baseball for them. Although, really, no one else on the team is any good, but he’s the only one who wants to play so it’s all his fault.

He’s able to convince them to come back and play again because the hardware shop owner is willing to get them uniforms and back the team in the Little League. Only it turns out Little League teams can’t have dogs or girls on them, in that order, so Charlie Brown decides to lie about the uniforms and just inspire everyone to play well.

And they do. Probably. There’s not just no adults in “All Stars,” none of the other team appears either. Even during the baseball games. Even during the baseball game where it’d be real important for them to show up so there was some logic about how the kids are playing (and losing) the games. But they get enough hits to stay competitive in the game, though the other team only has two runs at the bottom of the ninth.

For as much as “All Stars” goes on about baseball, it never seems like writer Charles M. Schulz particularly cares about it, which is fine for comic strips, but not really for a narrative. Especially not one about baseball.

The baseball story line–which has Charlie Brown making a tough, but moral decision (though it’s not really a tough decision and the cartoon barely pretends it to be)–kind of finishes before the end, when Schulz goes for a different laugh and fumbles it. Lots of fumbles in the script. You can see the scene as a four panel comic strip and it just does not translate.

There are a handful of decent jokes–always involving Christopher Shea (as Linus) though he’s in the last one and it bombs–and there’s some cute animation. All the kids nonsensically have skateboards, if only so they can skateboard away from Charlie Brown and his promise of baseball. The Pigpen jokes all fall particularly flat and Sally’s one scene trying to tempt Linus in her bikini is… really awkward and sort of concerning. It’s a short scene though (even if the failing joke gets drug out), which is probably for the best.

Most of the performances are uneven. Shea’s best. Robbins’s rocky. Sally Dryer has more bad line readings than good as Lucy. Glenn Mendelson’s flat as Schroeder, who’s not in it enough for it to matter. But Karen Mendelson (as Violet) and Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter (as Shermy) are probably the most consistently good. All of Ann Altieri’s Freida moments–usually about her curly hair–flop except one.

“All Stars” just don’t have any narrative flow. It’s not rushed, but it’s kind of aimless. Melendez’s direction doesn’t have any personality–except avoiding the particulars of the baseball game. Sadly Vince Guaraldi’s score is minimal. More music might’ve helped.

Nothing really works right in “All Stars.” It’s too bad, but nothing really works from the start so it’s not particularly surprising.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis; music by Vince Guaraldi; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Sally Dryer (Lucy), Christopher Shea (Linus), Karen Mendelson (Violet), Glenn Mendelson (Schroeder), Cathy Steinberg (Sally), Geoffrey Ornstein (Pigpen), Gabrielle DeFaria Ritter (Shermy), Ann Altieri (Freida), and Lynn Vanderlip (Patty).


The Incredible Hulk (1977, Kenneth Johnson)

The Incredible Hulk opens with a montage of lead Bill Bixby’s martial bliss. It goes on for quite a while, just Bixby and (an uncredited) Lara Parker being a happy married couple. Then tragedy strikes. Like most tragedies in The Incredible Hulk, it involves a car tire blowing out. There are three such instances in the movie. The first two are fine. The third one’s contrived, but effective. Director and writer and producer Johnson doesn’t let anyone acknowledge how unlikely the third instance seems; Hulk takes itself way too seriously for that sort of thing.

And Hulk taking itself seriously works. Sure, Hulk Lou Ferrigno has a terrible wig but who knows what would happen to hair after a person metamorphoses into a… well, an incredible hulk. But the rest of the seriousness? It works.

Even the manipulative opening montage.

It’s almost a year after the tragedy. Bixby has thrown himself into his work; he and research partner Susan Sullivan are trying to figure what gives people superhuman strength in cases of crisis. It’s not clear whether they’ve been working on the project since before the tragedy, as it ties directly into Bixby and Parker’s experiences.

The first act of Hulk is this phenomenally plotted science and research story. Sullivan does great selling all the scientific stuff (for a while at least, Hulk sounds pretty scientificy–the science variation of truthy). Sullivan does a great job with everything. Bixby might get top-billing, but Sullivan makes the movie. She and Bixby have this gentle relationship; when Johnson adds their backstory in exposition towards the end of the second act, it all works because Sullivan has been so good.

As the movie begins, Bixby’s not doing well at work. He walks out on an interview with mom Susan Batson who found super-strength to save son Eric Deon. Sullivan, playing the responsible one, has to get Bixby focused. Turns out she gets him too focused and he starts experimenting on himself. Resulting in the third blowout and the first appearance of Ferrigno.

Ferrigno’s “first day” out as the Hulk is Johnson doing something of a Frankenstein homage. The electronically amplified Hulk growls don’t work–and the wig is terrible–but Ferringo works hard in his scenes. He gets to over-emote since he’s a seven foot tall musclebound green grotesque, but the over-emoting is what the part needs. Johnson knows it too. He gives Ferringo more emotional scenes than Bixby by the end of it. Bixby’s sad, but Ferrigno’s tragic. Sullivan’s great with both of them.

Did I already mention she makes the Hulk? Not literally, of course, because she’s a responsible scientist, unlike Bixby.

Unfortunately, once Ferrigno shows up, the movie takes a turn. It’s been expansive until that point–introducing new characters, having Bixby and Sullivan’s research go somewhere–but once it’s about figuring out the Hulk, the movie starts folding in on itself. It’s just Bixby and Sullivan trying to figure things out. And dodge tabloid reporter Jack Colvin, who is very dedicated to his job, but very bad at it. Colvin’s performance also isn’t up to Sullivan or Bixby’s level, which certainly doesn’t help the already narratively troubled third act.

The movie’s technically accomplished, with Johnson getting a lot of good work out of his TV movie crew. Howard Schwartz’s photography is excellent for the daytime stuff and interior night stuff, okay for the exterior night stuff. Johnson’s direction is rather good. Surprisingly good in spots. The editing is fantastic–Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth cut the heck out of the first act setup. Okay, they can’t make the remembered dialogue playing as voiceover work but who can? And the script needs the voiceovers for introspective purposes. Johnson likes introspective; he gets the tragedy out of it.

He’s good at the introspective stuff too. Bixby’s great at being sad. Sullivan’s great at everything, which I think I mentioned. She really holds the movie together. Anyway, Johnson’s not great at some of the action stuff. He’s fine with scaling up to big set pieces, but he’s not so great at little stuff. Like his Frankenstein homage. It’s well-directed, but the actors? Johnson doesn’t pay any attention to their performances, just how they’re moving through the action sequence. Their performances need a lot of attention, especially given the action sequence. Johnson doesn’t direct much from character point of view (if ever). Sometimes that point of view would help things.

I can’t forget–Batson’s great. She’s only in it for a bit but it suggests Johnson’s going to keep bringing in excellent performances in small parts. Doesn’t work out that way, though. Instead we get Colvin’s performance rolling gradually downhill from mediocre.

Joseph Harnell’s music has one good theme and then the rest of it is hot and cold. He runs out of ideas for the action scenes pretty quick. And the dramatic stuff only really works when he’s playing with that one good theme.

The Incredible Hulk could be better–another half hour to play with might have given Johnson some ideas for subplots–but it’s still pretty good.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson; teleplay by Johnson, based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Howard Schwatz; edited by Alan C. Marks and Jack W. Schoengarth; music by Joseph Harnell; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Bill Bixby (Dr. David Banner), Susan Sullivan (Dr. Elaina Marks), Jack Colvin (Jack McGee), Lara Parker (Laura Banner), Susan Batson (Mrs. Maier), Eric Deon (B.J.), Charles Siebert (Ben), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).


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