Charlie Brown, tirelessly optimistic manager of a baseball team that has never won a single game, is determined to finally have a successful season. But there are a few obstacles standing in his way: outfielder Lucy can’t catch a ball to save her life (not that the rest of the team is any better); “calisthenics expert” Snoopy would rather sleep on the bench; little Leland, who wants to move up to the “big leagues” from the t-ball circuit, keeps getting smacked in the head; and Charlie Brown himself is not exactly the best pitcher. On top of that, their team is the only one in the league without uniforms. Charlie Brown makes a deal with the owner of the local hardware store to supply them with uniforms—but only if the team can win their opening game. Will he be able to pull his motley crew together in time to finally persevere on the field?
Written by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz and produced by Schulz’s longtime animation collaborators Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown was originally produced in 1992 as the 35th entry in the ongoing series of Peanuts television specials. However, it has the dubious distinction of being the first Peanuts special not to debut on network television; its scheduled airing was canceled, and the special was instead released on home video four years later. This month marks Spring Training’s debut on DVD as the featured short on the fifth and most recent release in Warner Home Video’s Happiness is…Peanuts series, called Go Snoopy Go!
Peanuts specials are largely hit-or-miss, and Spring Training unfortunately falls into the latter category. There are a few moments of adorable humor (usually at the hands of mischievous beagle Snoopy), but Spring Training ultimately lacks a great deal of the charm that makes ubiquitous Peanuts holiday specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown so enjoyable. The characters we know so well are somewhat muted in this short: blanket-worshipping Linus does not get the chance to offer his typical bon mots of schoolyard wisdom; Lucy’s hilarious sharp tongue is relatively tempered; and half of the typical members of the cast, including Charlie Brown’s annoying little sister, Sally, aren’t even present.
And there are some odd moments sprinkled throughout the cartoon—perhaps none more so than the scene in which the token child of color, Franklin, raps a cheer before the game while Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the team "get down" (you know, just so there’s absolutely no doubt that this cartoon was produced in the early '90s). Furthermore, the soundtrack to Spring Training sorely misses the jazzy, distinctive strains of the invaluable Vince Guaraldi, which are replaced here by a generic, sometimes electronic-sounding score composed by Judy Munsen (Munsen scored most of the Peanuts specials following Guaraldi’s death in 1976, but after Spring Training, subsequent cartoons in the series featured restructured Guaraldi compositions).
The disc also includes the twelfth episode of the 1980s CBS animated series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. The cartoons featured in this show are little more than brief, animated recreations of several of Schulz’s original comic strips, focused on stretching out a single, familiar gag: Snoopy pretending to be a vulture; Lucy’s attempts to convince Linus to ditch "that stupid blanket"; Peppermint Patty’s struggles with classwork and subsequent refusal to go to school; Re-Run’s adventures as a backseat driver to his mother’s bicycle riding; more adventures in baseball, as Charlie Brown attempts to manage his very unmanageable team through a rainy season. The five vignettes range from amusing to somewhat banal, and none of them, sad to say, are overly adept at capturing the imagination.
All told, while Go Snoopy Go! is mildly entertaining at times, the shorts featured here are not nearly as strong nor as memorable as some of the previous Peanuts specials. At a list price of $14.97 for a mere 46 minutes of cartoons (and no extras other than commercials for other animated Warner releases), only the most hardcore of Peanuts fans may find this one worth the investment.