I am a big Peanuts fan who’s collected all of the Complete Peanuts volumes so far (they’re up to 1970, so they’ve already collected most of the strips from Charles Schulz’s prime); I’ve never been quite as sold on the animated specials as some. This is mostly due to the fact that I came to Peanuts first through the comic strip, so the specials always kind of got to me whenever they would depart from the strip. I’m not just talking about plot points that would never happen in the strip, like showing the Little Red-Haired Girl (something Schulz reluctantly approved for the special but refused to do in the comic strip), but just re-assigning lines: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is great, but it jarred to hear Sally saying the line “All I want is what I have coming to me; all I want is my fair share” when that was originally Linus’s line. More importantly, the more specials they did, the less they had to do with the strip; I remember seeing the first broadcast of the infamous “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown” and wondering who these people were and what they’d done with Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
Around that same time (early ’80s) the creators of the specials — Schulz, Producer Lee Mendelsohn and director Bill Melendez — did something they’d never done before: a regular weekly series based on Peanuts. Schulz had, as I recall, been reluctant to approve a regular series for fear that it would dilute the effectiveness of the characters in the TV medium. The solution The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show used was not to have any new scripts or dialogue created for the episodes: they used only material that came directly from the strip, with new lines added only when they absolutely couldn’t avoid adding something. Most of the specials drew heavily on the original strips, but they usually added linking material to create a full half-hour story; this show was just a lot of comic strips re-done in animated form. There were short sketches, usually stringing together individual strips with a similar theme, and longer sequences based on long multi-week stories from the strip. They’d already done two specials with this format: A Charlie Brown Celebration and It’s An Adventure, Charlie Brown (which included animated versions of such famous stories as Charlie Brown’s baseball-shaped rash and Charlie Brown being hunted by the EPA for biting the kite-eating tree). The weekly series was similar in approach to the specials and feature films: “wah-wah” sounds for the adults; real kids’ voices (I never really figured out, BTW, why they felt a need to cast Marcie with kids who were so young that they had to learn their lines phonetically); Snoopy was a pure pantomime character with no dialogue or articulated thoughts.
I don’t recall it being particularly successful. Though the material was terrific — maybe too sophisticated for an ’80s Saturday morning show — it didn’t offer anything you couldn’t get by buying a cheap collection of Peanuts strips. And doing the material with almost no alterations or links was probably a mistake: when you string together three weeks’ worth of strips, you get a lot of repetition and recapping. (In “It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown,” they did the story where Marcie convinces Peppermint Patty that a butterfly landed on her nose, turned into an angel, and flew away, a story that turned into a Schulz satire of organized religion and angel-spotting; every ten seconds, Peppermint Patty would repeat “It turned into an angel, and flew away!” because in the original strip, she was repeating it each day for the benefit of the first-time reader.) They did have to make changes to incorporate the fact that they couldn’t include Snoopy’s thought balloons, but that just created a bigger problem: without Snoopy’s thoughts, a lot of the stories became less fun than they were in the original, especially the ones with heavy Snoopy content.
Still, I enjoyed the show because it was “pure” Peanuts: no showing the Little Red-Haired girl; no tacked-on happy endings; no Flashbeagle-style musical numbers. Just stories and gags that were familiar from the strip, brought to life through animation, where endings are usually unhappy, love is always unrequited and Snoopy can’t even defeat the Red Baron in his fantasies.
This episode is fairly representative of the strengths and weaknesses of this show. The second segment is based on a very good multi-week story from the comics, so the basic material is good, but the animation, voice acting and timing leave something to be desired, and the need to find substitutes for Snoopy’s thought-balloons leads to some very awkward moments, and not just when they have Charlie Brown narrate what was originally a Snoopy thought balloon. (In the strip, when Charlie Brown finds Snoopy, Snoopy thinks “how embarrassing! I forgot who I was looking for!” The substitute here is just not as funny.)
The show lasted one and a half seasons: the second season, which was only five episodes, added a few kid-oriented stories that were not from the comic strip (like “Snoopy’s Giant,” with Snoopy as Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk) and obnoxious new lyrics for the theme song (whose tune came from “Flashbeagle”) as well as another appearance by the Little Red-Haired Girl — and with it, a reminder of why Schulz refused to show her in the strip: if we see her, we just wonder what Charlie Brown was so obsessed about.