Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!

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I was at Target this past weekend and could not help but notice how much of an extra emphasis the stores are putting on Easter this year. It was a serious upgrade from past years, which typically only see a single isle set up haphazardly near the middle of the store. For 2012 they had an impressively large section dedicated to chocolate bunnies and egg dying kits. We are talking near Christmas level floor space, I've never seen this much umph put behind the holiday before.

As I approached this freshly set up section my heart raced with anticipation. I probably looked all to excited to the parents who were so very clearly getting a head start on this Easter thing for there children. Giving me plenty of 'what the fuck you doing here' looks along the way. Clearly I was out of my element and the elderly ladies and mothers pushing shopping carts full of screaming children were not so subtly telling me so. I had forgotten that while showing this level of excitement may be acceptable during Santa's Season, it may strike others as a tad out of place that a single 25 year old male rummaging around bins full of children's Easter cartoons and digging through shelves of candy... carefully inspecting each box and occasionally mumbling 'oh that looks interesting' to myself.

I wanted to bust out my camera phone and document this experience but better judgement kicked in and I didn't. Judging from the reactions given to me by everyone around, I was already on the verge of being labeled a child predator and a camera phone would most definitely have sealed the deal.

All of this was probably for the best, turns out Easter doesn't really have a lot of things associated with it. And while Targets over elaborate Easter section was an interesting idea, I question if we really need an entire isle with five-trillion different brands of Easter egg dye, and seven more isles filled to the brim with nothing but packages of M&Ms and peeps. With only the occasional cheap toy tossed in for a little variety.

Except of course for that bin full of DVDs. Amongst all the Easter 'specials' that nobody really cares about was a few copies of 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown'. Being a big fan of the Peanuts Gang there was no way I was leaving without a copy of this cartoon in hand.

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown actually brings up a fairy interesting question. Which of the Charlie Brown Holiday Specials are classics and which are simply fun distractions? We all know that the Christmas and Halloween specials tend to define the word classic and the Thanksgiving cartoon is a pretty heavy hitter in its own right, but where does something like this Easter special stand within Charlie Brown lore?

Out of the forty five television specials that have been made none of them are really bad... its just that forty four of them have the misfortune of not being 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. The one holiday special that everybody loves and sets therefore sets the bar extremely high for everything that came after it. 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown' is a great cartoon but it is not the same life altering experience as that time Charlie Brown went Christmas Tree shopping and came home with nothing more than a sad little twig tree branch.

But it is filled with plenty of memorable moments and should be a staple of every Easter season. Even if it wins that race simply by default because there aren't that many other good Easter specials. For those of you who have never seen this cartoon, let's change all of that with an extra special look at 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown'!

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Our story begins with Schroeder quietly playing his piano while Lucy tells him that we "have another one of those great holidays coming up" and goes on with how it is a perfect opportunity to give pretty girls presents. Schroeder is quick to remind her that Easter is a "time for renewal" and the beginning of spring. This Easter special relies heavily on themes created in prior TV cartoons and for better or worse does not introduce any new elements to the series. At times leaving those of us watching it with a 'been there' feeling of sorts.

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Charles Schultz also wrote this special with much more of a "strip comic" feel to it. Once scene will start with a setup, give a little dialog, and then quickly end with some type of sight gag or pun. Then it is on to the next scene. 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown' does quite a bit of jumping around because of this. The other Peanuts specials that I loved all have that loose quality to there narrative but here it is almost a little much.

Schroeder and Lucy are immediately followed by a scene involving Woodstock and Snoopy. One in which Woodstock is unhappy with his birds nest, due to the fact that he is getting rained on, and decides to complain about it to Snoopy. Who in turn rings him off and drys him out. These Charlie Brown specials always tend to go off on little side tangents but my major complaint with the Easter one is that Woodstock and Snoopy are not simply a one-off tangent, but a fully realized side story that happens smack dab in the middle of everything else. One that doesn't relate at all to the holiday.

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Back to the main story we find Charlie Brown and his sister Sally talking about the coming Easter holiday. It is here that you'll notice the voice acting in this cartoon, particularly with Sally, is not quite as sharp as some of the prior specials. There was a certain charm to the way characters spoke in 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' that feels a little off from time to time in The Easter Beagle.

The way they speak does not always feel right either. Sally is complaining about how she has nothing to wear for Easter and not once does Charlie Brown attempt to tell her that is not what Easter is about. He just sort of goes along with everything she says until Linus and Lucy show up. Lucy is still going on about how they need to go to the store to purchase eggs and candy.


It is here that Linus gives us our real setup for the cartoon, as he tells everyone that they don't need to do any of this because the Easter Beagle will be coming to town and will deliver candy and colored eggs to all the good children. Yea it is pretty much the same setup as The Great Pumpkin. It would have been fantastic if right here and there all the other kids called Linus out on that point, but instead nobody really questions the validity of the Easter Beagle story. Instead it ends with Charlie Brown telling his sister Sally to "come on, I thought you wanted to get some new shoes" and all the children exit stage right and head off towards the shopping mall.

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It is here at the shopping mall that the best little piece of the cartoon happens. In quite possibly the best idea Charles Schultz came up with for this cartoon, upon entering the mall we are presented with a gigantic Christmas display! "Its Easter and they already have there Christmas decorations up!" could not be any truer of a statement if it tried. The musical score (which is once again top notch) even changes to vaguely resemble sleigh bells. 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown' was wrote in 1974 and if Mr. Schultz had a problem with the over-commercialization of the holiday back then, I can only imagine what he would think of what we have done to Christmas here in 2012.

I do not want to sell the cartoon short by saying this but this little segment right here is probably the best part of the entire cartoon. At least in my humble opinion. I cannot help but to smile at that huge "Only 246 Days Until XMAS" banner or all of the flashing "Buy Early" signs. Having previously worked in retail for a number of years, I can assure you that if most stores could get away with it... they would look exactly like this year round. Good grief indeed, Charlie Brown.

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After a couple short minutes of the kids ridding the mall escalator and trying on hats and shoes, Snoopy finds his way to a mysterious looking display of eggs. He picks one up and looks inside of it and... we get our obligatory Snoopy dancing scene that is required for every Peanuts holiday special. According to the documentary found on the discs special features, this was actually Charles Schultz favorite piece in the entire cartoon. He supposedly really enjoyed these little additional side ventures with the characters. Though I think the real reason for them was answered a bit later on in the documentary when they talk about balancing a narrative story for adults while keeping it interesting for the children at home. These little "side tangents" are brought up as being the easiest way to keep all the kids watching the program.

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Continuing on with our shows sub-plot of Woodstock not being happy with his leaky old nest, while at the mall Snoopy decided to pick him up his very own birdhouse. It immediately jumps from the screenshot you see up above of Snoopy purchasing the house, to him hanging it on the tree in the backyard for Woodstock. When he shows it to him, Woodstock does not appear happy with his new house because he doesn't think he can fit inside. Eventually Snoopy drills a larger hole and then just sort of shoves Woodstock inside. It actually is a pretty funny little scene, but I cannot help but feel like this Snoopy / Woodstock sub-plot was tacked on when they realized the actual Easter Beagle segments wasn't quite enough to pad out into a feature length cartoon.

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Back inside the main house Linus is once again going on about how the Easter Beagle will deliver colored eggs and candy to all the good children of the world. Sally finally sort of breaks down the proverbial 4th wall and goes on a little rant about how all of this sounds exactly like that time she sat out overnight in a pumpkin patch waiting for The Great Pumpkin to arrive. How it was the worst night of her life and how she will never trust "guys with blankets" ever again.

Besides the shopping mall scene, this exchange between Sally and Linus is the other really cool part of the cartoon. And probably has the best bits of dialog between characters too. This despite the fact that Sally has a sub-par voice over.

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There is also a bit of a third sub-plot that I have not mentioned up until now. The very opening of the cartoon (before the Schroeder and Lucy piano scene but after the 'Easter Beagle' opening credits) had a very quick exchange between Marcie and Peppermint Patty, in which Patty attempts to show her friend how to color Easter Eggs. Only Marcie keeps ruining the eggs before they get a chance to color them. Throughout the course of the cartoon she will fry them on a stove, stick them into a waffle iron, try to fit one into a toaster, stick an entire carton inside an oven, and eventually boils a pot of water and cracks all the eggs inside... thus creating "egg soup". How Marcie has not burnt down her parents kitchen yet, I have no idea.

In terms of actual Easter related content, the best exchanges are clearly between Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Especially watching Marcie struggle to grasp onto the concept of coloring eggs. According to the included documentary, this was Charles Schultz primary idea for this Easter Special. It is a shame that he did not flesh it out a little more with some of the other characters. You might notice that there has been a distinct lack of Charlie Brown in this cartoon. Turns out he really only bookends the Easter Beagle story. Showing up at the very beginning and once again at the tail end... just sort of existing as a background character throughout most of the show. Personally I would have liked to see some of Charlie Browns struggles with coloring eggs. Off the top of my head I can imagine a scene in which Charlie Brown accidentally dyes his hand blue. Something such as this would have really helped to push the cartoon from simply being "alright" into something much more "memorable"

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Instead the cartoon seems mostly intent on giving Snoopy and Woodstock as much screen time together as it possibly can. This, despite the fact that there story doesn't really have anything to do with Easter. Of course 'It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown' came out during that period of time in the 1970's when Snoopy was really popular so I guess I can sort of understand wanting to give the characters a little more screen time.

Personally, I will always enjoy when Snoopy takes a back seat over the times they choose to shove him up into the forefront. His piano dancing scene during 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' will always trump the extended Red Barron stuff in 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown' I always thought it was short of a shame that the Red Barron became the defacto template for stuff that Snoopy should do in future cartoons.

In this scene Snoopy hears some strange carpentry noises coming from the birdhouse he recently purchased for Woodstock and upon closer inspection finds that the little yellow bird has decorated the whole inside of the birdhouse, complete with a little sofa. This angers Snoopy for some reason, which causes him to stick his nose into the birdhouse and eventually break the thing

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The broken birdhouse eventually leads Snoopy and Woodstock back to the shopping mall where they meet up with Marcy and Peppermint Patty, who have just arrived to get another batch of eggs to color. Here the three (Woodstock wasn't able to make it through the sliding glass doors of the mall) share yet another obligatory Snoopy dancing scene.

Do you gets also have the feeling that Charles Schultz kind of ran out of ideas for this Easter special? I am willing to give the first Snoopy dance number a bit of a pass, since these Peanuts specials are sort of known for their slower pace and little side quests, but this one here seems to serve no purpose other than to eat up a couple minutes of screen time. It seems particularly out of place when you factor in all the Christmas decorations and the fact that they are dancing to the music of those wind up Christmas music boxes... smack dab in the middle of an Easter special.

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Eventually though we do reach the meat and potatoes of the special and get to Lucy's big Easter egg hunt. After she colors a batch of eggs, she explains to Linus "how simple the holiday is." adding that "You paint the eggs. You hide the eggs. You find the eggs." Of course Lucy being the one who hides the eggs is confident that she will be the one to locate them all. The bitch. Unbeknownst to her, however, is after every egg she places Snoopy is quick to snatch up as soon as her back is turned.


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Snoopy, as the Easter Beagle, then delivers the colored eggs to all of the children much to there delight. Everyone except for Charlie Brown. His big moment in the cartoon happens here within the final moments, as Snoopy runs out of eggs right as he reaches him and has nothing to give to him. Talk about bad luck!

From here we only have one very brief encounter between Lucy and Snoopy, who has came to confront the Easter Beagle over him stealing all her eggs and ruining the Easter Egg Hunt. But after a quick kiss from Snoopy, all is better and the end credits promptly follow.

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown is an enjoyable if not somewhat flawed cartoon. The ultimate question as it pertains to any of the later Peanuts holiday specials is just how many times can Charles Schultz replicate the formula created with the Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving specials. He was asked to do it for every conceivable holiday, from Easter to Arbor Day (yes Arbor Day, its actually presented as a bonus feature on this disc) all the way to New Years and eventually back around to Christmas again (in 1992's It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown). So at some point, the magic sort of looses its luster and the specials don't seem to special anymore.

Which isn't to say that its not worth your while to watch cartoons such as the Easter Beagle. You'll find that even some of the lesser specials are better than 90% of the cartoons on the market today. I may have sounded a little harsh on this cartoon but that is only because of having such fond memories of the other specials and unfairly comparing them to one another.

If you have young children by all means go out and purchase a copy of It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown. I can almost guarantee you they will love it and it will be something you and your family will enjoy watching time and time again. Even if its not quite as magical as Christmas or as cool as Halloween... its still a fun ride through the Peanuts universe

~Happy Easter Everyone!~

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