November 5, 2015
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) (1980)
Grade: 42/100

Director: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman
Stars: Arrin Skelley, Daniel Anderson, Bill Melendez

What it's about. The key "Peanuts" gang, minus Lucy and Schroeder, have an adventure in France in this feature-length cartoon. They are exchange students. Patty and Marcie end up on a farm with Pierre, whose romance with Marcie becomes a running gag for Patty's misinterpretation of his feelings. They have it better than Charlie and Linus, who have to sleep in the yard of a mansion occupied by Violette, the nicest little girl in France, who won't let them in because of orders from the mansion's ill-tempered owner, the Baron. Meanwhile, Snoopy plays a game of tennis at Wimbledon, and has sundry other minor escapades.

How others will see it. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown came and went quickly. It caused little stir, but has undoubtedly since redeemed its investment via video sales. The plot had personal significance for Charles Schulz, a World War II veteran once stationed in France, but this connection was lost on the general audience. Ignored by film festivals, and treated with indifference by critics who had long given up on the franchise, the movie nonetheless has a fairly high user rating of 7.3 out of 10 at, boosted by the American female young adult demographic.

How I felt about it. Admittedly, this is a cartoon whose targeted audience is preteenagers, and as such it should be given some leeway when it comes to plot holes. Nonetheless, it is disconcerting to see a half-dozen American grade schoolers in Europe without any parental guidance, sleeping in yards and getting chauffered by a reckless dog driver. Also, given the film's "G" rating, the burning chateau is fairly traumatic, and the baron's constant threats to harm the children at his chateau also belong to a different genre of film.

But it doesn't bother me that Snoopy has a passport, flies first class, abandons his keeper to get drunk on root beer, and otherwise causes trouble. This has always been his character: a maverick streak, and feckless, but nonetheless generally loyal to his master.

In fact, the "Peanuts" franchise relies heavily on the antics of Snoopy, who has more freedom of action and imagination than the action-challenged children. We know that Charlie will always do the right thing, yet typically fail, and the same can be said for Linus, his intellectual and philosophical alter ego. Peppermint Patty is merely annoying, if not outright delusional. Lucy is similar but more entertaining as a bully, and certainly has more common sense. Unfortunately for the viewers, Lucy is shelved early here, in favor of the bland, polite, and subservient Marcie.

It seems that the only good to great "Peanuts" films are the two television shorts that practically every American has seen: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". There are scores of other "Peanuts" shorts, each more tame than the next, with the limited exception of Snoopy's unpredictable behavior. The feature films are mostly disappointing, particularly A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which holds promise to those who haven't seen it strictly because it was made during the 1960s, the golden decade of the safe and charming kid-friendly franchise.

I am impressed, though, that the voices of Charlie and Linus sound the same, decade after decade, given that they are voiced by multiple generations of prepubescent children.

There is an upcoming 3-D movie that reboots "Peanuts", which has been moribund since the death of creator Charlie Schulz. Longtime "Peanuts" film director Bill Melendez has also passed, and the franchise is now presumably controlled by corporate hands who have invested massive marketing dollars. We shall soon see whether this funding will generate either a commercial or artistic return.