The essence of Charles M. Schulz and his beloved “Peanuts” characters are alive and well in this production, the first original TV special since the creator’s death last year. Culled from more than 18,000 daily comic strips penned by Schulz, “A Charlie Brown Valentine” uses the same formula and production team that made Snoopy and the gang synonymous with major holidays.
ABC, which bought the rights to the “Peanuts” franchise from CBS, plans to air more of these all-new specials in addition to the classics. Although CBS was blasted for letting go of Charlie Brown after 35 years, the Alphabet has recently been accused of manhandling the “Peanuts” legacy by airing “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” amid formidable competition or in forgettable time periods. “A Charlie Brown Valentine” marks the first step toward redemption by giving it a holiday primetime premiere.
A better timeslot means Charlie Brown gets humiliated on a larger scale with Valentine’s Day eliciting more disappointment for the guy with the big round head. Charlie is smitten with the little red-haired girl and hopes to become her valentine. But when Charlie finally works up the nerve to call the her, he accidentally reaches Marcie and sets off a friendly rivalry between the bespectacled girl and her friend Peppermint Patty.
Meanwhile, Snoopy is hacking out Valentine’s Day love notes for the neighborhood kids, but his prose, which includes the likes of “Chocolate is brown, roses are red,” leaves much to be desired.
Several themes remain a constant in the “Peanuts” universe, the most pervasive being unrequited love. The second is problem-solving, which is accomplished through prophetic wisdom imparted by elementary school kids.
Although the same animation team is behind this production, the colors don’t look as rich and the backgrounds don’t appear as detailed as in previous specials. David Benoit’s rendering of the now-famous Vince Guaraldi tune is a case where more would be better. As is, the music is a bit watered-down. Schulz still gets the writing credit, but the script is peppered with modern vernacular such as “Hold it right there, dude,” which is jolt of realism in the timeless universe of Charlie Brown.
And perhaps it’s nitpicking, but it sure looks warm out for Valentine’s Day. The voice talent is obviously new, but for the most part, manages to keep the integrity of the characters intact. Noticeably absent however, are Woodstock, Violet, Frieda and the kid who does the cool zombie dance in the Christmas special.
Still, director Bill Melendez continues to deliver dependable family entertainment, if not anything new and innovative. In the “Peanuts” world, psychiatric help is only 5¢, Charlie never gets any respect and Lucy can’t win the affection of Schroeder. And that’s just how it should be.