Friday, April 26, 2013

It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown

Premiered March 16, 1976.

"What is Arbor Day? Oh, that's simple. That's the day when all the ships come sailing into the arbor!"
-Sally Brown, incorrectly answering Miss Othmar's question.

Sally () has been assigned by her teacher to write about the history and meaning of Arbor Day.  Linus () offers to help her and suggests the library will provide them with the needed information.

They learn Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, an early conservationist.  Linus reads aloud from a book that states "Arbor Day points out to both children and adults the need to protect certain areas of our natural forests and woodlands."  Arbor means tree, and trees are planted in celebration of Arbor Day.

Sally asks Linus if Spring really does turn a young man's fancy to thoughts of love
Meanwhile, Charlie Brown () and Peppermint Patty () are sitting under a tree discussing love and baseball.  They're getting ready for the upcoming baseball season.  Peppermint Patty is confident that her team will soundly beat Chuck's team several timesBut she still wishes Chuck and his team good luck in the upcoming season.

Peppermint Patty is very confident her team will win against Chuck's team:
"Our team plays your team twelve times. We slaughter you twice in April, smash you three times in May, ruin you twice in June, murder you three times in July, annihilate you four times in August, and destroy you altogether in September." (Peppermint Patty's math appears to be off, she's actually just listed off fifteen games, not twelve!)

Sally enlists Linus' help to plant trees in honor of Arbor Day.  They run into Lucy (), who thinks that's a good idea and joins them.  Sally and Lucy decide that Charlie Brown's baseball field is the perfect place to do some planting.  Linus isn't so sure, he thinks they should ask Charlie Brown first.  Lucy dismisses Linus' worries as "nonsense."  She says Chuck will be glad that they are improving his field.

Lucy tells Charlie Brown that they're fixing up the field, without explaining how they are fixing it.  Charlie Brown informs Peppermint Patty that the field will be in good shape for their opening day game.

The rest of the Peanuts gang (except for Chuck) get to work planting trees and other vegetation, including a new sapling right in the middle of Charlie Brown's pitcher's mound.

Linus is concerned about the tree on the mound, but Lucy says it will provide shade.  She adds that they could use "a little class on the pitcher's mound", a (not so subtle) dig at Chuck.

The Peanuts gang hard at work planting ... on the baseball field!
Lucy decides that they need more plants.  They plant rose bushes, daisies, geraniums, a creeping vine behind home plate and a vegetable garden in right field.

Snoopy runs afoul of a newly planted creeping vine behind home plate

In the meantime, Charlie Brown is working on baseball strategies, blissfully unaware of the havoc that is being wreaked upon his beloved baseball diamond.

What will Chuck's reaction be when he sees his new and "improved" baseball field?  Moreover, what will Peppermint Patty think of the field's condition when she arrives with her team?  Will the new field help lead Chuck's team to their first ever victory?   

J.A. Morris says:

I'm pretty sure I caught this special when it was brand new in 1976.  It's a good introduction to conservation for children and it's a solid Peanuts special.

Lucy celebrates her first-ever homerun:"Another victory for Women's Lib!"
There are several moments that still make me laugh:Woodstock's encounter with a sprinkler, Snoopy's wrestling match with a creeping vine and Charlie Brown screaming "quitters" during the rain-out are highlights.

The baseball game is another high point.  Baseball is often referenced in Charlie Brown specials, but we rarely see Chuck and company play a game.  Watching Chuck and Peppermint Patty's teams square off surrounded by cornfields and tomato plants provides us with some very entertaining action.

There are some minor subplots in It's Arbor Day.  The special opens up with a scene with Linus' brother Rerun () riding on the back of his mother's bicycle.  Rerun was a recent addition to the Peanuts comic strip and this was his animated debut.

We also get some funny scenes involving Snoopy and Woodstock (both voiced by Bill Melendez) at the library.  Snoopy finds some books about dog obedience that make him laugh loudly in the library, drawing the ire of the librarian.  Woodstock also has an unfortunate encounter with a photocopier.

The only problem I have with this special is Charlie Brown's voice.  Dylan Beach isn't terrible, but there's something not quite right about him.  According to imdb, this is Beach's only screen credit, so perhaps the producers shared my assessment.

On a sad note, this was the last special that featured new music from regular Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi.  He died shortly before this special aired and Charlie Brown specials were never quite the same.  But Guaraldi did some nice work here.  During the baseball game, we get some fun organ-based music that will make you feel like you're watching the game in a stadium.  

A chagrined Charlie Brown tries to explain the "improved" field to Peppermint Patty
It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown has a nice story with action and humor.  It's provides a bit of education about Arbor Day and it also celebrates another uniquely American "holiday": opening day of baseball season!
For more information about Arbor Day (and conservation in general), check out the official site of the Arbor Day foundation:

J.A. Morris' rating:


3 and a half kite eating trees.

RigbyMel says: 
This special was seldom aired on TV, so I didn't get around to seeing it until it was released on DVD.   It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown is a very cute and fun special.   I like the educational aspects about Arbor Day and also the fact that Linus and Sally (as well as Snoopy and Woodstock) visit their local public library to do research.

The gang's impulse to plant and beautify is laudable, but one really does feel for Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty's distress at the transformation of the baseball field.

The transformed baseball diamond
There are some wonderful funny details included in this special,  like the use of baseball bats as tomato stakes.

Creative baseball bat useage
And also Snoopy's mirth over the dog obedience training book at the library and inadvertent photocopying of Woodstock are amusing.

Who knew dog obedience training books could be so funny?

I do detect a hint of (perhaps inadvertent) irony in a sequence involving Snoopy and Woodstock using a photocopier (and wasting paper) in a show about trees and conservation.

Age old photocopier silliness
Lucy's "victory for Women's Lib" is pretty funny as well.

My only real complaint would be a desire to see a compromise of some sort allowing the Peanuts gang to keep both the baseball field AND the lovely community garden they plant for Arbor Day!

This is a fun special that has been overlooked.  It's worth checking out on DVD or via Netflix if you've the time or inclination.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 (kite eating?)  trees

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The First Easter Rabbit

 Premiered April 6, 1976.
"We came within a hair's breadth, if you'll excuse the pun, of never having an Easter rabbit at all."

A bunny named G.B. () narrates the story of how the Easter Bunny began his career.

Exuberant narrator G.B.

A little girl named Glinda () gets a stuffed animal bunny for Christmas. She names the bunny Stuffy.

Stuffy in Glinda's stocking with a sprig of holly between his paws
Stuffy becomes Glinda's favorite toy.

Glinda later contracts scarlet fever. The doctor tells Glinda's mother Elizabeth ()  that all of Glinda's possessions must be burned to prevent a relapse of the disease.  Stuffy is among the items that will be destroyed.

While waiting on the rubbish pile, Stuffy is visited by a fairy named Calliope (Gardner again). She turns him into a real bunny and tells him he will become "the First Easter Rabbit."

Calliope sends Stuffy to Easter Valley, where it's always Spring, despite its location near the North Pole. She says Stuffy must "beware of Zero" as she flies away.

On the way to Easter Valley, Stuffy encounters three rabbits of questionable morals (the narrator calls them "con-rabbits").  They're names are Spats (), Flops () and Whiskers (Don Messick).   They're skeptical of Stuffy's story, but they offer to help him find Easter Valley, thinking there might be some way for them to profit from the adventure.

Stuffy meets Flops, Spats & Whiskers.
Meanwhile, Zero (Frees again) is also trying to get to the valley.  He is responsible for keeping the North Pole cold, but he can't access Easter Valley.  He asks his toady, a snowball named Bruce (Messick) to find a route to the valley.  Zero plans to make Easter Valley as icy as the rest of the Pole.

Zero, with his flunky Bruce.
Stuffy and the other rabbits meet a bird who directs them to the secret entrance to Easter Valley, which happens to be under a tree. When they arrive, Santa Claus (Frees again) stops by to welcome his new neighbor.

Santa Claus welcomes Stuffy
Stuffy worries that they don't have enough time to prepare for Easter. The other rabbits ask "What's in it for us?" Santa says that if they give presents to children, they'll feel good by doing good.

A little bird tells Stuffy how to access Easter Valley.
Zero observes the rabbits from afar. He conspires to capture the Golden Lily, which enables Easter Valley to stay Spring-like year round.  Once in possession of the lily, Zero causes winter to descend upon Easter Valley. Stuffy and company are snowed in.

Will stuffy be able to deliver eggs, candy and presents to children on Easter?  Will he get to see Glinda again?

Zero captures the Golden Lily, Bruce regrets helping him obtain the lily.
J.A. Morris says:
I had not seen The First Easter Rabbit in more than 30 years and found it was better than I remembered.  I've always felt that Rankin-Bass' "traditionally" animated specials were inferior to their Stop-Motion "Animagic" offerings.

Stuffy puts on a Santa suit while performing "There's That Rabbit".
But the music is nice, the special is full of beautiful Spring colors and the voice actors do a great job.  Paul Frees, Don Messick and Stan Freberg are among the best voice actors of all time and they bring their A-game to this special   Burl Ives also does a good job as narrator here.

Jonathan & Elizabeth (Glinda's doctor & mother, respectively) enjoy the Easter Parade.
 Additionally, his character GB's outfit  bears a strong resemblance to the clothes worn by Snowman Sam in Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer.  Fans of the series Mad Men may be surprised to learn that Robert Morse (yes, Bert Cooper himself) voices Stuffy the Easter Rabbit.

Robert Morse, who plays Bert Cooper in Mad Men...

...also voices Stuffy, the First Easter Rabbit!
 I always enjoyed the supporting role Santa Claus plays in this special.  As a kid, seeing Santa here was a nice reminder that Christmas was not as far away as it seemed.  And I also thinks it's cool that Santa helps Stuffy & friends deliver their Easter goodies.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could call up Santa for help if we were stuck in a snowdrift?

Santa & his reindeer (yep, led by Rudolph) arrive in Easter Valley to help Stuffy.
The introductory song "There's That Rabbit" isn't the best thing Maury Laws wrote, but it's catchy and memorable. Which is good, because the song pops up throughout the special.  The inclusion of Irving Berlin's classic song "Easter Parade" gives this special a real "major league" feeling.  And the "Easter Parade" scene is a nice finale, the reunion of Glinda and Stuffy is touching.

Stuffy & Glinda reunite at the Easter Parade.
All in all, The First Easter Rabbit is a very good Easter special and is recommendedAnd if you're a fan of Mad Men, you may find it particularly amusing to hear the voice of "Bert Cooper" coming out of a cartoon rabbit.

Stuffy dances & charms the crowd at the parade.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Easter Eggs

RigbyMel says:

This special is relatively new to me - the first time I saw it was last year.  The story is an interesting mixture of elements, including similarities to the 1964 Rankin-Bass classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer with plot  from Margery Williams' 1922 tale The Velveteen Rabbit  and a bit of Irving Berlin thrown in for good measure.   The polyglot nature of the special works better than one might expect.

Stuffy and friends working on Easter goodies to share
On a side note, I am amused at how often Santa Claus seems to show up in various Easter related specials.  (It makes sense considering the origins of both holidays.)    That being said,  Santa's message to the sidekick bunnies about making others happy being more rewarding than personal gain is one that bears repeating year-round.

Off-Season Santa is around for help and advice!
 I do find the villain in this special to be a bit lacking in motivation compared to some other Rankin-Bass bad guys.   Bruce the anthropomorphic snowball is a creative addition, though.

The Macguffin Golden Easter Lily
As J.A. Morris says,  the voice acting is very appealing, the songs are fun and the bright spring colors are delightful. 

This might not be required viewing every year, but it is certainly an enjoyable way spend a half an hour.

RigbyMel's rating:

2 and a half Easter Eggs