Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!)
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (6th October 2015).
The Film

When Peppermint Patty (Patricia Patts) and life partner Marcie (Casey Carlson) are selected from their school for a two week foreign exchange program in France, Peppermint Patty considers it an honor until she discovers that Charlie Brown (Arrin Skelley) and Linus (Daniel Anderson) have also been selected from their school (funny, I always thought Linus was younger). Even more coincidentally, Charlie Brown receives a letter from France that he is unable to read. While aging playboy Snoopy (producer Bill Melendez) and whipping boy Woodstock are joining them, Charlie's regular bully (and Linus' sister) Lucy (Laura Planting) and embittered little sister Sally (Annalisa Bortolin) only make one scene cameos ("If I had my way, I'd exchange both of you," cracks ). Charlie Brown does not think until they are on the plane – with Snoopy traveling in style via first class and Peppermint Patty taking in a screening of "Naughty Marietta" – to get fluent Marcie to translate the letter he received. Marcie reveals that it is a standing invitation from one Violette Honfleur (Roseline Rubens) to stay at the Chateau du Malvoisin ("The Chateau of the Bad Neighbor") in Le Heron a few miles from their exchange school in Morville. Landing in London, Charlie Brown, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie spend most of their time trying to translate a British pub menu while Snoopy plays the bad sportsman at Wimbledon. They then take the train to Dover and a hovercraft to France where they must travel on by car; fortunately, Snoopy has a driver's license. They drop off Peppermint Patty and Marcie off in Morville at the farm of their sponsor family, and heartthrob student Pierre (Pascale de Barolet) – who back-slapping Peppermint Patty insists on calling "Pete" – warns Charlie Brown and Linus that no one stays at the chateau and that the reclusive baron (Scott Beach) "'ate everybody!" Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, and Woodstock press on to the chateau but no one answers the doors and they are forced to camp out in the stables during the stormy night. Snoopy is appointed guard dog but he and Woodstock soon amble off to a local café and, hungover the next day, is unable to explain the blankets that have been left for them some time during the night or the croissants and orange juice left for breakfast. Peppermint Patty and Marcie become increasingly concerned when they learn of Charlie Brown's and Linus' experience, and Pierre reveals that the baron became embittered towards American after the war when Violette's grandmother became friends with an American soldier. When Charlie Brown and Linus find themselves camping out in the stables again the next night, Linus resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery and enters the dark chateau.

As a lifelong fan of horror and mystery, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) was a favorite of mine due to sinister atmosphere of the second half of the film and its conflagration climax; but, alas, it has not aged well. The semi-autobiographic aspects of the story with Charlie Brown standing in for Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, who was stationed in France during the war, makes for a rather dull mystery constructed around the still hilarious exploits of Snoopy and Woodstock, with the Wimbledon scene and the café scenes (with root beer-drunk Snoopy's emotions changing with the shifting medley of jukebox songs including "I'll Be Seeing You", "Sentimental Journey", and "Rum & Coca-Cola") with the French classroom scene with an aggravated Charlie Brown and nit-picking Peppermint Patty the funny exception. As the last of four theatrical features before Peanuts returned to television specials and a short-lived series, the film could have been about fifteen minutes longer and better delineated the two stories around the Snoopy interludes, addressing first love with Peppermint Patty/Marcie/Pierre triangle and some maturity from Charlie Brown who does not figure as centrally into the climax as one would expect. Seeing the film now, the transatlantic journey of the first half is the more entertaining section and offers the animators some variety compared to the regular series settings. Some shots have also been recycled throughout the feature in their entirety rather than just elements from different layers; this is forgivable, however, when one takes into account the time consuming process of animating a feature by hand (no matter how many additional "hands" one has) compared to not only modern animation but even live action feature filmmaking where the recycling of shots for lack of sufficient coverage seems sloppier when it is obvious. The usual series musical themes take a back seat to the scoring of Ed Bogas (Fritz the Cat) and Judy Munsen which evinces an appropriately nostalgic air to the underlying auto-biographical aspects of the film.
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Video

Compared to either a tape rip or TV recording online, the 16:9 1.78:1 widescreen loses a bit on top and bottom while adding margins of peripheral information to the sides. Since the film was shown theatrically, it was presumably further matted off to 1.85:1. The new transfer makes more distinct the backgrounds which are relatively more complex than those of the comic strips or even the earlier TV specials. The hand-drawn animation is largely two-dimensional with some minor depth suggested by shading and the softness of some background elements.
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Audio

The Dolby Digital 2.0 English mono track is in fine condition with the voices, sound effects, and (all of the original songs are present on this track as they were on network TV airings even though they were replaced due to music rights issues on the Cartoon Network airings). The French dub track is interesting in that it redubs Marcie's French epithets to the drivers during the traffic snarls differently than how they are transcribed on the English Closed Captioning track and on the French subtitle track which also transcribes those parts of the English track rather than being a transcription of the French dub. Spanish dubs and subtitles are also available.
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Extras

Besides the film's theatrical trailer (2:29), the disc includes the excellent featurette "Travels with Charlie" (20:23) in which Schulz's widow and President of the Board of Directors at the Charles M. Schulz Museum Jean Schulz discusses the autobiographical aspects of the story: Schulz was billeted at the Château du Mal Voisin during the war and revisited the area with her years later. Jean Schulze and Producer Bill Melendez's son Steven discusses his father's relationship with Schulz, including the creator mentally adjusting to his characters being drawn by others and animated for movement in ways different from how he did them on still panels. Co-producer Lee Mendelson discusses the contributions of various animation collaborators, the innovations of the feature films from the comic strip and the TV specials, as well as Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown's innovations with depth in the more varied background as well as the need for actual adult voices and faces rather than the usual trombone "wah wah" gibberish.
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Overall

Although Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!!) has not necessarily aged well for this viewer, it still has aspects worth savoring and discovering.

 


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