Charles Schulz collaborated with animator Bill Melendez and producer Lee Mendelson on the first wave of Peanuts TV specials, which is why their sensibility and look were so highly Schulz-like. But they weren’t Peanuts, really. Schulz’s daily newspaper strip had a muted rhythm and a love of language that did survive into the specials, but the more conventional narrative arcs of the likes of A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown—coupled with their slapstick interludes and jazzy Vince Guaraldi scores—weren’t fully in sync with what Schulz did with Peanuts day in and day out for 50 years. Schulz’s strip featured longer stories sometimes, but they tended to be aimless and even bizarre, running only for as long as Schulz could milk them for a wry observation or good visual gag. The rich cosmology of Peanuts—the blanket-hating grandma, the kite-eating tree, Snoopy’s food allowance, Joe Shlabotnik, and all of that—sprung not from some master plan, but from the need for ideas that could reliably generate jokes, on a merciless daily deadline.
That’s why the most faithful adaptation of Schulz’s life’s work remains The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show, a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon that originally ran on CBS from 1983-86. Mendelson and Melendez headed up the project, and Schulz was credited as the writer, since the scripts were mostly taken word-for-word from his original Peanuts strips. Each episode is divided into three or four segments, adapted from those stretches of Peanuts when Schulz would just riff on a single premise for a few weeks at a time, be it Rerun’s anxieties while zipping around on the back of his mother’s speeding bicycle, or Peppermint Patty’s annoyance with Charlie Brown when they’re forced to share a desk at school. Some segments from The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show have been previously packaged on DVD as makeshift Peanuts specials, but Warner Archive’s double-disc MOD set The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show: The Complete Animated Series marks the first time that all 18 half-hour episodes of the show have been available together on disc. And while it’s not officially associated with any of the Schulz archival projects that have been published over the past few years, The Charlie Brown And Snoopy Show is as valuable to fans as Fantagraphics’ The Complete Peanuts volumes.
The show’s not flawless, though. As with most ’80s cartoons, the music is incessant (and more generic than the familiar Guaraldi scores); and as with nearly all of the Peanuts specials and movies, Snoopy is voiceless, which eliminates one of the essential sources of humor in the comic strip. But it’s still a pleasure to see an animated version of Peanuts that follows fairly closely what Schulz did: following the wild emotional swings of childhood by rolling through one quick, well-paced joke after another, marked by pervasive melancholy, intermittent whimsy, and plenty of precisely phrased lines like, “Don’t hassle me with your sighs, Chuck.”
Key features: Rats! There’s nothing.