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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Peanuts: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)
Peanuts: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)
Paramount // G // October 6, 2015
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 28, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Before the recent CGI movie was announced, Charles Schulz's Peanuts only had four feature-length productions under its belt: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy, Come Home (1972), Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977) ...and possibly the most ambitious, 1980's Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!). On the surface, these theatrical films preserve the best parts of their small-screen counterparts: Schulz's effective line work, soft and painterly backgrounds, a relaxed atmosphere, and catchy music. But as evidenced by their aspect ratios and running times, these are bigger adventures with much more time to fill...and as a whole, the idea of feature-length Peanuts adventures is usually more interesting than the actual result. Simply put, all four of these movies have pacing issues and feel more than a little padded, even though none of them crack the 90-minute mark.

In hindsight, Bon Voyage might come the closest to a truly satisfying Peanuts feature film. This is largely due to its international backdrop: Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie venture to France as part of a student exchange program, with ol' Chuck having the added bonus of a mysterious pen pal who's invited him to stay at Chateau du Mal Voisin ("House of the Bad Neighbor"). Things get dark in a hurry after the ladies are dropped off at their guest house: Charlie Brown and his crew are forced to sleep outside the seemingly abandoned chateau, which turns out to be occupied by an unfriendly Baron and a kind young girl named Violet who penned the letter. Naturally, this mystery serves as the heart of Bon Voyage's story, with other familiar Peanuts motifs (Snoopy's side adventures with Woodstock, Charlie Brown's bumbling exploits, etc.) running a very close second.

It's not exactly the trickiest balancing act, but Bon Voyage mostly pulls it off. The film's best moments stem from its biographical backdrop: Charles "Sparky" Schulz was actually stationed in France during WWII and had to camp outside the mysterious Mal Voisin on one occasion (he even drank root beer and played foosball at a nearby pub, as Snoopy does in the film), and it's obvious that the foreign landscape was a life-changing experience. Bon Voyage also benefits from excellent music by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen, with additional contributions by Doug Goodwin, which helps to fill the massive hole left by Vince Guaraldi's 1976 death. The film also features Peanuts' first regular glimpse of adult faces (and voices!), although the lack of a muted trombone certainly takes some getting used to.

Even so, Bon Voyage isn't all highlights. That pesky padding creeps in on several occasions, including a frivolous classroom conflict with Peppermint Patty that only runs for a few minutes but feels like half an hour. Meanwhile, the initial journey to France gobbles up nearly half of the film's meager running time, making the mystery feel more like a Hail Mary at times. And while its conclusion manages to tie everything in a neat and mostly crowd-pleasing bow, portions of the plot leading up to it (including the Baron himself, Snoopy's accidental eavesdropping at the pub, and the house fire) feel more than a little overcooked and slightly out of place in the Peanuts universe. Nonetheless, it's still a memorable adventure that fans will enjoy revisiting: like most folks my age, I saw Bon Voyage a few times as a kid and liked it, but most of my early impressions lay dormant until this most recent viewing three decades later.

Much like Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (the other Peanuts film made for Paramount), this marks the DVD debut of Bon Voyage, which will finally replace the worn and rare VHS copies floating around in collector's circles. Fundamentally, this item is cut from the same cloth as Warner Bros.' remastered Deluxe Edition Peanuts discs, sporting a plain but attractive interface, keepcase packaging, and even a sturdy slipcover. The bonus features are slim but appreciated, making Bon Voyage a nice little package that's priced to sell for casual and die-hand fans alike.

Video & Audio Quality

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is presented in a slightly modified 1.78:1 aspect ratio; theatrical shorts (animated or not) were simply not composed for a straight 16x9 presentation in 1980, so this is most likely just opened up from a more conventional ratio like 1.85:1. Regardless, Paramount's DVD marks the film's second appearance on circular home video, and it looks great in anamorphic widescreen (the VHS and a lesser-known laserdisc edition were presented in 1.33:1 open matte, while this DVD is safely cropped to reflect its theatrical appearance); overall, it's certainly on par with Warner Bros.' recently restored Peanuts films and specials. Image detail and color reproduction are terrific, digital problems are absent, and the series' traditionally simple appearance works as effectively as ever. Overall, this is a terrific effort...and while Peanuts was never intended to be sleek and sophisticated (pre-CGI, at least), only the lack of a Blu-ray option prevents Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown from looking even better.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent the DVD's native 480p resolution.

Though not quite as immediately noticeable as the visual restoration, the audio treatment is also satisfying in its own right. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is presented in its original Dolby Digital Mono mix (also available in Spanish and French dubs) and, though limited by its age and source material, the dialogue and effects are crisp, clear, and well balanced. Sporadic music cues by Ed Bogas and Judy Munsen, with additional contributions by Doug Goodwin, are more dynamic as a whole and display a reasonably good amount of depth for this single-channel presentation. Optional English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese subtitles have been included during the main feature only.

Bonus Features

Just two, but they're worthwhile. "Travels with Charlie: the Making of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown" (20:22) is an informative featurette with contributions from Schulz' widow Jean, producer Lee Mendelson, and animator Steven Melendez (son of Bill), as well as animation historians including Charles Solomon and Nat Gertler. Topics include Sparky's WWII experiences, visiting locations 30 years later, and the contributions of Dean Spille and Bill Littlejohn; a few rare photos are glimpsed along the way and Paramount's Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown) is discussed in light detail. Charles Schulz also appears in two brief segments of an archived interview, but the date is not listed.

Also included is the film's original Theatrical Trailer (2:28, 16x9 widescreen) complete with full narration and a vintage Paramount logo introduction; it's also been fully restored to match the main feature and fits in nicely.

Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown marks another welcome round of Chuck and company on DVD; in fact, only the continued lack of a Blu-ray option spoils the party a little. Regardless, this is still an entertaining adventure that's a modest improvement over the gang's previous feature-length adventure, boasting a richer atmosphere and a more ambitious story (even though it's a bit half-baked at times and the "mystery" feels like a stretch). Paramount's long overdue DVD matches the standard set by Warner's previous remastered discs in the Peanuts catalog, serving up a terrific A/V presentation and a small but welcome pair of extras. For obvious reasons, casually nostalgic fans and Peanuts disciples alike will want to add this low-priced disc to their collections. Firmly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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