BOOTLEG FILES 522: “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)” (1980 animated feature).
LAST SEEN: The film is on YouTube and DailyMotion.com.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A VHS release.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: An out-of-circulation title from a highly prominent franchise.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: There is a good chance it will be back.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, it was nearly impossible not to fall over the characters of Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts.” From the newspaper funny pages to TV specials and commercials to merchandising to New York and regional theaters (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”) to books to record albums and even into outer space (Snoopy was a mascot on the Apollo 10 mission), the Peanuts gang was all over the damn place.
Schulz’s characters were also seen on the big screen. The 1969 “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and the 1972 “Snoopy, Come Home” were among the most commercially successful non-Disney animated feature films of the era
By the late 1970s, however, something strange happened. Although the Peanuts franchise continued to generate millions of dollars, the quality of the creative contents began to grow stale. The TV specials featuring Charlie Brown and his pals lost a great deal of the imagination and humor, and the newspaper comic strip suffered from monotony and repetition. Even worse was the 1977 feature film “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” – due to the dismal quality of the production, Paramount Pictures quietly dumped the film in theaters in late August with minimal promotion. The kiddie audience didn’t bother to notice – back in 1977, all of the youngsters dragging their parents to the cinemas wanted to see Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, not Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
Undeterred by the poor reaction to that film, the creative team behind the Peanuts franchise pushed ahead on another feature film. For this endeavor, several changes were made to oomph up the basic format. For starters, the film would be moved far beyond the comfort zones of bland suburban America to a more exotic setting in Europe. A few new characters were created to liven up an ensemble that became too predictable and adult characters, which were previously absent from physical on-screen interaction in the Peanuts productions, would become part of the action.
Unfortunately, these changes proved to be a classic case of too little/too late. “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)” – don’t ask why two exclamation points were used – was not only the weakest entry in the Peanuts film series, but it also proved to be among the most boring animated feature films ever made.
The film opens at school, where Linus is given the task of introducing two French students to his class. The French kids are part of an exchange program, and Linus adds that he and Charlie Brown have been chosen to represent their school in France. Charlie Brown is stunned to hear this, because no one ever mentioned anything about going to France before.
But Charlie Brown quickly discovers that he has company on his trip. Peppermint Patty calls up to say that she and her bespectacled sidekick Marcie are representing their school in the same exchange program. This is actually a little confusing, because Peppermint Patty is seen in the same class as Linus and Charlie Brown – how she was able to take lessons in two schools at once is not explained. In any event, Charlie Brown invites his dog Snoopy to join them. Snoopy, in turn, brings his feathered friend Woodstock along for the ride.
Prior to the departure, Charlie Brown receives a letter from a French girl named Violette. Alas, the letter is in French and Charlie Brown cannot read it. But that’s the least of his problems – he never heard of Violette and has no idea why she is writing to him.
Most everyone is excited to see the kids go – although crabby Lucy opens encourages Charlie Brown not to return. (The film’s poster features Lucy prominently, although she is barely on screen.) Getting to Europe becomes something of a slapstick obstacle course – Peppermint Patty’s suitcase falls on her head, Snoopy drives an airport courtesy van into an escalator bank, Woodstock gets stuffed in an airplane armrest ashtray, and Snoopy then gets stuck on a luggage carousel.
The first stop on the trip is London – why they didn’t take a direct flight to France is not explained. As the kids go to see London’s tourist sites, Snoopy and Woodstock visit Wimbledon and play tennis. Snoopy engages in some John McEnroe-style temper tantrums on the court and gets ejected. Everyone then takes a hovercraft to France, and Snoopy drives the rental car that takes them to their destination. Peppermint Patty and Marcie stay at a farmhouse where an older boy named Pierre is their host while Charlie Brown and Linus have to sleep on the lawn of a chateau that is supposed to accommodate them while they are in France.
It seems the chateau’s owner is a baron who hates foreigners, and his niece is the little girl Violette that wrote a letter to Charlie Brown. Violette made contact because Charlie Brown’s grandfather was an American soldier stationed in France during World War I and he was briefly the boyfriend of Violette’s grandmother. Sadly, the war separated them. But this trip down memory lane is interrupted by a fire in the chateau, and Charlie Brown and Snoopy save the day – even though the dog winds up getting most of the fire hose water on Charlie Brown than on the flames.
“Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)” seems to have everything thrown into its mix: travelogue excursions, culture shock comedy, pratfalls, schmaltz, an action climax, a bit of kiddie romance (Charlie Brown finally gets kissed!) and rude antics from Snoopy. What it doesn’t have, unfortunately, is an engaging story, likeable characters, comedy that can generate some degree of amusement and competent animation. Quite frankly, the film looks terrible and moves with painful slowness, while the voice performances by both the juvenile and adult actors are so lacking in character that one could almost assume the cast performed their lines phonetically.
Unlike the release of the previous Peanuts film, Paramount positioned this production to open over the high-profile Memorial Day weekend in 1980. However, the film was trounced at the box office by “The Empire Strikes Back.” “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)” grossed an anemic $2 million at the box office. Despite its poor commercial showing, Schulz remained supportive of the effort and even created a made-for-television sequel in 1983 called “What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?” That sequel continued the French trip, with an extended stop at Normandy to ponder the D-Day invasion.
Paramount released “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don’t Come Back!!)” on VHS video in 1995, but to date there has been no DVD or Blu-ray release. The full film can be found on YouTube and DailyMotion.com, and reports of a new Peanuts feature film scheduled for a 2015 release might spur the home entertainment return of this offering. Until such time, Charlie Brown fans will have to content themselves with their old VHS tapes or a few unauthorized online postings of this mostly-forgotten flick.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!