You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown is not your typical Peanuts special. Rather than being written by the strip’s creator Charles Schulz, this is an adaptation of Clark Gesner's musical of the same name. After getting permission from Schulz, Gesner created a concept album of songs based on the characters that he later developed into an off-Broadway musical in 1967. The show was a success and went on to Broadway with a new cast in 1971, became a live-action television special in 1973, and was animated in 1985. Changes in adapting the musical find some songs cut to get the special down to 48 minutes and Charlie Brown’s sister Sally replaces Patty.
Good Man casts the characters in a series of amusing musical vignettes that will be very familiar to Peanuts fans. Everyone looks down on Charlie Brown's foibles, but then changes their tune as they sing "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown." Lucy serenades "Schroeder" while he plays Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and she talks about their potential marriage. "Snoopy" daydreams in the afternoon and awaits "Suppertime" in the evening. Charlie Brown attempts to fly "The Kite" and experiences another disappointing Valentine's Day. Serving as player-manager, he raises morale with "T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)" and later finds himself at bat in the bottom of the final inning, one strike to go, with a chance to either win or lose the game. The pressure increases when he notices the little red-haired girl in the stands.
Gesner has a good sense of the characters, especially Lucy. Her bossiness is on full display throughout from berating Charlie Brown, considering becoming a Queen, and revealing funny “Little Known Facts” to Linus. For example, she explains Woodstock is an eagle, which is called a “sparrow” when it is young, and is traditionally eaten on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
However, the biggest character change is quite shocking. Snoopy speaks and sings! While it’s understandable it was needed on stage to convey his thoughts, hearing Snoopy speak doesn’t work. Beyond the actor’s voice not sounding right, the entire idea flies in the face of what was so compelling about the character in all the other specials. Bill Melendez’ unintelligible sounds for the character are greatly missed.
The DVD comes with one special feature. "Animating a Charlie Brown Musical" (15 min) covers the origins of the special and the musical with a series of interviews. The best part is seeing archival footage of Schulz on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown is an interesting interpretation of Peanuts that stays close to Schulz’s vision. I’d suggest a rental for the curious, but it’s not a must-see as Gesner’s songs don’t resonate beyond viewing the special.